The New Journalism: Remembering the late Tom Wolfe | The Listening Post (Feature)


Manage episode 215181578 series 11989
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I'll be honest. I really had no idea if this piece was going to work or not. In the world of news, and in the world of meta-news which is the better way of describing our programme, we deal with the present. Sometimes we insert a voice-over that gives a bit of historical context - it usually comes two thirds of the way in to the piece (not to give too much away) - but for the most part, we stick to the ever-giddy 'now'. But I wanted to go back in time, to the sixties and actually, I wanted to talk less about journalism and the politics of misrepresenting the facts, our staple, and more about the merits of literature and fiction. I wasn't trying to be original for the sake of it: it's just that for years, I had been across (another way of saying I knew of their existence but had not strictly speaking actually read them) a group of journalists whose writings, disperate in style, subject, content came to mark a rupture from the orthodoxies of more conventional forms of reporting of the time. Out with the straight laced, neutral tones of the traditional reporter. Zzzzzzzzzz. In with the renegades, the bohemians, the artists who wanted to get into the cracks of the story, because that's where the poison, or the truth, lies. WAKEY WAKEY!!! We are talking about the sixties, a time of political, sexual, cultural, revolutionary change in which the traditional forms of storytelling were out of sync with the new realities. Until then, editors at magazines like The New Yorker, Esquire, Rolling Stone, wouldn't have given such lowly or banal subjects the time of day - that was the stuff of novelists, surely. But these writers erupted on the scene and gave us what we would now call 'long reads' - 30,000 word articles destined to irritate the empirically obsessed journalistic establishment - and destabilise the literary world which felt robbed or that their art form had been degraded. Anyway, the point is that there was something about The New Journalism that spoke to me. It was a different kind of embedded journalism. Tom Wolfe rode across the country with a group of hippies. Hunter S. Thompson probably overstayed his welcome with the Hell's Angels. Joan Didion delved into California dreaming and came up with nightmares. Terry Southern hung out with baton twirlers in the deep South and unearthed the racial politics of the time. One of our contributors, Dan Bischoff, told me that he thinks "words have declined in importance". "All of today's journalism aspires to be this and it can't, there isn't room for it anymore," said Bischoff, an art critic at the Star Ledger. "You wanna write 30,000 words about oranges, okay, you're gonna mount it on your site and maybe somebody'll read it, you know?" "Several of these New Journalism pieces changed my life," he adds. "I mean, Hunter Thompson changed my life. Gay Talese. These things changed your life. Made you feel that you're not on this planet just by yourself with other people like you...You know, you met other people through these pieces." You met other people in these pieces. People who, today, wouldn't be on your Facebook page, Twitter feed - they would be in another echo chamber, in a parallel universe. You may not have 'liked' what they said, you may not have 'shared' their world views. But you would have engaged with them. That might have made a difference. So, to state the glaringly obvious - this piece we just made, full of glitchy, saturated archive: it's not just about the past, it's about the present and the future. If nostalgia is cheap, then so be it: These writers took risks, they went out there, beyond the confines of their cosmopolitan comfort zones, they stayed a while - enough time for all the clear lines that mark the Manichean narratives of us and them, good and bad, to blur beyond recognition - or to blur into another kind of story, less polarised, more curious, less certain, more real. More from The Listening Post on: YouTube - Facebook - Twitter - Website - - Subscribe to our channel: - Follow us on Twitter: - Find us on Facebook: - Check our website:

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