Comprehend prototype from
The New, New Journalism.
Robert Southward. Boynton has gotten many prominent nonfiction writers to bear witness upwardly for campus interviews about their craft, which have been edited and collected here. The list includes the likes of Susan Orlean, Jon Krakauer and Michael Lewis, likewise as sometime hands such as Jane Kramer and Calvin Trillin.
When I began instruction a course on American literary journalism, I was puzzled by the 30-year gap betwixt the end of what was considered the New Journalism and the contemporary writers who were my focus. Was everything written since Tom Wolfe’s influential 1973 introduction to The New Journalism — in which he argued that nonfiction, not the novel, had go “the virtually of import literature being written in America today” — merely a footnote to that motion?
The more I looked into information technology, the more I came to sympathise that not only was Wolfe’south account inaccurate, simply it was also an impediment to appreciating both the distinctively American quality of modern literary journalism and its continuity with its 19th-century predecessors. And since the way writers construct the story of who we are is every bit important for our culture equally it is for the study of journalism, Wolfe’south distortions pose a 18-carat dilemma.
For even as Wolfe was celebrating the triumph of the New Journalism, the seeds of an fifty-fifty more formidable stage in American literary evolution were being planted. In the years since Wolfe’s manifesto, a grouping of writers has been quietly securing a place at the very center of contemporary American literature for reportorially based, narrative-driven, long-form nonfiction. These New New Journalists — Ted Conover, William Finnegan, Jonathan Harr, Alex Kotlowitz, Jon Krakauer, William Lang-ewiesche, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, Michael Lewis, Susan Orlean, Richard Preston, Eric Schlosser, Lawrence Weschler, Lawrence Wright, and others — apply the license to experiment with form earned by the New Journalists of the 1960s and 70s to speak to social and political concerns similar to those of 19th-century writers similar Stephen Crane, Jacob A. Riis, and Lincoln Steffens (an earlier generation of New Journalists), synthesizing the best of the 2 traditions. Hence the admittedly clumsy moniker, the New New Journalists.
Rigorously reported, psychologically astute, sociologically sophisticated, and politically enlightened, the New New Journalism may well be the nearly popular and influential development in the history of American literary nonfiction. Neither frustrated novelists nor wayward newspaper reporters, today’s authors tend to write magazine manufactures or nonfiction books that benefit from both the legitimacy that Wolfe’s legacy has brought to literary non-fiction and from the concurrent displacement of the novel as the most prestigious form of literary expression.
For today’s New Journalists, club is more than complex than for their immediate predecessors. They consider class and race, non just Wolfe’southward “status” (how one dresses, where one lives), to be primary indices of social bureaucracy. They view indigenous and ideological subcultures (“terra incognita,” equally Wolfe chosen them) as different in degree, not in kind, from the rest of American civilisation.
This movement’s achievements tend to be more than reportorial than literary. Wolfe’s New Journalism was a truly avant-garde movement that expanded journalism’due south rhetorical and literary telescopic by placing the author at the center of the story, channeling a character’southward thoughts, using nonstandard punctuation, and exploding traditional narrative forms. Past contrast, the new generation experiments more with the fashion one gets the story. To that terminate, its writers have developed innovative strategies to immerse themselves in their topics — Conover worked as a prison guard for Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing (Random House, 2000) — and they take extended the time they’ve spent reporting — Adrian Nicole LeBlanc spent nearly a decade reporting Random Family: Beloved, Drugs, Problem, and Coming of Age in the Bronx (Scribner, 2003).
It is ironic, then, that this reportorial motility is exploring the very territory Wolfe once ceded to the novel. “There are sure areas of life that journalism all the same cannot move into hands, particularly for reasons of invasion of privacy, and information technology is in this margin that the novel volition exist able to grow in the time to come,” Wolfe wrote in 1973. What he didn’t anticipate was that a new generation of journalists would build upon (and ultimately surpass) his reporting methods, lengthening and deepening their involvement with characters to the bespeak that the public-private separate essentially disappeared. Wolfe said he went inside his characters’ heads; the New New Journalists become office of their lives.
Finally, theirs is the literature of the everyday. If Wolfe’s outlandish scenarios and larger-than-life characters leaped from the folio, the New New Journalism goes in the contrary direction, drilling down into the bedrock of ordinary experience into what Gay Talese has chosen “the fictional current that flows below the stream of reality.” In that regard, the elderberry statesmen who have most inspired this generation are John McPhee and Talese, prose poets of the quotidian.
McPhee’s influence has been twofold. First, a generation of literary journalists has taken his “Literature of Fact” course at Princeton University. 2nd, he has opened up subject field thing. His work has proved that annihilation — geology, nuclear weapons, fishing, basketball — is fair game for the literary journalist, equally long equally it is prodigiously researched and painstakingly reported.
Of course, the New New Journalists do not constitute a coherent group. Some of them know each other, only near do not. They don’t alive in whatsoever one city or function of the land. They write for magazines — primarily The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times Mag, The New Yorker, Rolling Stone — but by and large make their living writing books. What they do share is a devotion to close-to-the-skin reporting equally the all-time way to bridge the gap between their subjective perspective and the reality they are observing.
How did Wolfe’s misleading history of American literary journalism take root? His manifesto has long been considered the New Journalism’s bible; and, as with the Bible, it contains a creation story and a set up of guiding principles. The principles are fairly straightforward. The New Journalism uses complete dialogue, rather than the snippets quoted in daily journalism; proceeds scene by scene, much as in a moving picture; incorporates varying points of view, rather than telling a story solely from the perspective of the narrator; and pays shut attention to status details nearly the appearance and behavior of its characters.
The cosmos myth is more involved: “The sudden arrival of this new style of journalism, from out of nowhere, had acquired a status panic in the literary community,” Wolfe wrote. No longer would journalism function as niggling more than the “motel y’all checked into overnight on the road to the final triumph” of the novel. The drama of Wolfe’southward business relationship was in its headlines — Status Panic in the Literary World! The Novel Dead! The New Journalism Triumphant! Just information technology rested on two hidden bounds. Offset, because he insisted that the New Journalism sprang forth “from out of nowhere,” Wolfe had to explicate away the presence of writers whose work bore any similarity to it. Second, considering he was smart enough to know that zilch springs along ex nihilo, he needed to provide the New Journalism a proper full-blooded — something not as base of operations as mere journalism; otherwise, the “new style” would be little more the next logical stage of the genre. And where was the fun in that?
Wolfe’southward solution to those seemingly contradictory needs was ingenious. What better literary precedent with which to upend the novel, he figured, than the novel itself? Thus he argued that the New Journalism was not a stage in American journalism, only a revival of the European tradition of literary realism — a tradition unjustly ignored past a generation of omphalus-gazing 1000.F.A.’southward. In ane savage swoop, Wolfe simultaneously “dethroned” the novel, broke from American journalism, and claimed the drape of 18th- and 19th-century European fiction, particularly the work of Balzac, Dickens, Fielding, and Zola. Wolfe gave grudging acquittance to the fact that New Yorker writers like Truman Capote, John Hersey, A.J. Liebling, Joseph Mitchell, and Lillian Ross had been experimenting with diverse New Journalism techniques for years, lumping them along with what he chosen other “Not Half-Bad Candidates” for historical forerunners of the New Journalism.
Critics griped, only largely accustomed Wolfe’s account. Latching on to his notion of the “journalistic novel,” literary theorists set off on a wild postmodern goose chase to divine the line between fact and fiction, producing a rash of scholarly studies on such topics as “fables of fact” and “the novel as history.” Most discussed the aforementioned six writers (Capote, Joan Didion, Michael Herr, Norman Mailer, Hunter Due south. Thompson, and Wolfe).
The skeptics, for the most role, focused on the question of whether the New Journalism was, in fact, new. Wasn’t 18th- and 19th-century English literature — Addison and Steele’southward coffeehouse reports, Dickens’s Sketches past Boz, Hazlitt’s “The Fight” — bursting with precedents? In that respect, Wolfe’s reply was disarming. On close inspection, those writers had entirely unlike aims and methods, he argued. Addison and Steele were, essentially, essayists who occasionally used scenes and quotations to animate their work. Most of the others weren’t writing journalism. They merely hadn’t been playing Wolfe’s game.
Equally often happens in an age of planned obsolescence, the New Journalism didn’t remain new for long. “Whatsoever happened to the New Journalism?” wondered Thomas Powers in Commonweal, 2 years after Wolfe’s manifesto. By the late 1980s, the consensus was that the New Journalism was dead.
On closer examination, however, information technology is clear that something quite exciting was taking place in American literary journalism. Although indebted to Wolfe’south experimentation, the New New Journalism was rehabilitating important aspects of a unlike set of predecessors. The figure who most forcefully elaborated the principles of that 19th-century genre — artfully told narratives about subjects of concern to ordinary people — was Lincoln Steffens, the city editor of the New York Commercial Advertiser. Insisting that the basic goals of the artist and the journalist — subjectivity, honesty, empathy — were the same, Steffens (best remembered as the first “muckraker”) led the motion to produce “literature” almost America’s most important institutions (business and politics) by infusing journalism with the passion, style, and techniques of bang-up fiction.
Amid his contemporaries, the writer who all-time put Steffens’s vision into practice was Stephen Crane, who prided himself on balancing the demands of literature and journalism in a manner that honored both. Crane’s favorite journalistic class was the closely observed sketch of city life. Those sketches — of the poor, of immigrants, of ordinary citizens — drew readers with the unsentimental, artful mode they captured characters and their pedestrian struggles. Crane wrote not as a social commentator or a polemical, muckraking announcer in the style of Jacob Riis, merely rather as an observer. “He is not concerned with converting the reader to social sympathy (perhaps distrustful or weary of the condescension of such a stance), but with converting the sheer data into experience,” the historian Alan Trachtenberg once wrote.
While continued by that sensibility, the New New Journalists range widely over the areas of experience they choose to return. Lawrence Wright’due south respect for the evangelical impulse, combined with his grounding in psychology and Arabic culture, have fabricated him one of the most insightful commentators on the grade of convictions that have led to state of war and terrorism, as in his New Yorker commodity from Saudi Arabia concluding yr, “The Kingdom of Silence.” Eric Schlosser’s muckraking exposés of Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Repast (Houghton Mifflin, 2001) and Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Blackness Market place (Houghton Mifflin, 2003) are exactly the kind of meticulously reported piece of work I could imagine Steffens or Riis producing.
William Langewiesche’s American Footing, Unbuilding the World Trade Center (North Point Press, 2002) refashions the pop 19th-century genre of the travel adventure into a journey deep into the bowels of America’s foremost symbol of global commercialism. Jon Krakauer, too, builds on that sturdy literary grade. His trek into the wilds of Alaska — Into the Wild (Villard Books, 1996) — traces the concluding days of a young charlatan. Even when writing about mountain climbing or Mormon fundamentalism — Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster (Villard Books, 1997) and Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Vehement Faith (Doubleday, 2003) — the terrain Kra-kauer explores is first and foremost psychological.
It is not that their 19th-century predecessors accept directly influenced these writers. More, I would fence, the New New Journalists are, often unwittingly, abode on questions that the genre has been posing since the 19th century: How does a fast-growing society of immigrants construct a national identity? How does a country built by capitalism consider questions of economic justice? How does a nation of unlike faiths alive together?
As in the 19th century, America today is rethinking its place in the world. Information technology is questioning whether and how information technology can absorb the huge number of immigrants who accept flocked to its shores. Once again, America’south is the story the world wants to read most, although perhaps more out of spite than admiration, and the subjects that the New New Journalists write nearly are those the globe cares about. Ted Conover — Coyotes: A Journey Through the Undercover Globe of America’s Illegal Aliens (Vintage Books, 1987) — and Jane Kramer — Unsettling Europe (Random House, 1980) — explore transnational migration. Leon Nuance — Rosa Lee: A Mother and Her Family in Urban America (BasicBooks, 1996) — William Finnegan — Common cold New World: Growing Upwards in a Harder Country (Random Firm, 1991) — and Alex Kotlowitz — There Are No Children Hither: The Story of Ii Boys Growing Upwards in the Other America (Doubleday, 1998) — report on race. Michael Lewis — Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game (Westward.West. Norton, 2003) — chronicles big business organisation.
Nosotros are currently experiencing the fascination with “true stories” — seen also in “drama ripped from the headlines,” “reality Idiot box” — but the stories the New New Journalists care almost business organization the precarious state of our society and the world.
Much equally it was in the 19th century, nonfiction today is as prestigious — if not more so — as the novel. Ours is an historic period of nonfiction, “the de facto literature of our fourth dimension,” the critic Seymour Krim once called information technology. That is equally truthful commercially every bit information technology is culturally. There is zippo quaint or marginal about these works of literary journalism, many of which have been enormous best sellers. The New New Journalism is big business on a scale never earlier seen by serious literary journalism.
With their intensive reporting on social and cultural problems, the New New Journalists accept revived the tradition of American literary journalism, raising it to a more popular and commercial level than either its 19th- or late-20th-century predecessors e’er imagined. Possibly it is time we requite it its due.
Excerpted from The New New Journalism by Robert S. Boynton, Copyright © 2005 by Robert S. Boynton. Excerpted by permission of Vintage, a division of Random Firm, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. This adaptation from The New New Journalism also appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education.