Module JG270

New Journalism

Module author

William (Bill) Minutaglio

The University of Texas at Austin

Learning objectives

After studying this module, you will be able to:

  • Define and explain New Journalism;
  • Give an overview of the historic development of the genre, including key persons who established this genre such as Tom Wolfe;
  • Reflect New Journalism critically.
Study point 1
Reading extract New Journalism


Why Open School of Journalism believes that New Journalism is important zu know

The style of reporting known as "New Journalism" is initially defined on Wikipedia as one which writers used during the 1960s and 1970s to offer readers a more explanatory approach to story-telling that was relatively uncommon at that time.

Articles in which the writers employed this technique were not typically published in newspapers during those days, but made regular appearances in major magazines such as Esquire, The New Yorker and Rolling Stone.

American author and journalist Tom Wolfe first introduced the term "New Journalism" in a series of articles he published in the early 1970s. The collection included works he penned himself as well as writings from other well-known scribes of that era like Norman Mailer, Truman Capote and Hunter S. Thompson.

Wolfe credited fellow writer Gay Talese with being among the first to employ this approach in an article he penned for Esquire about Joe Luis. When Wolfe read 1962 the piece, his immediate impression was that he was reading something more akin to a short story rather than a run-of-the-mill article. This was because of the way Talese opened the story with the unflinching details of an argument between Luis and his wife, and then continued to utilize techniques that had only previously been seen in fictional works throughout the story. The leadership at Esquire soon claimed this type of reporting as unique to the publication, and soon, other magazines followed suit.

Some in the industry suggest New Journalism dates back even earlier, however, with Robert E. Park describing the rise of the penny press during the 1830s as such in his Natural History of the Newspaper. Publications including New York World, a paper operated under the leadership of Joseph Pulitzer of Pulitzer Prize fame, initiated a type of reporting referred to as "yellow press." This kind of reporting became known as one that brought sensational headlines and stories to readers that were often exaggerated, not well researched and commonly centered on some scandal – all in an effort to sell more copies at the newsstands. 

Looking back on this chapter in the development of American newspapers has since led some historians and writers of that time to refer to this eye-catching and sometimes unethical form of reporting as the creation of a New Journalism.

Others in the field, including journalists Phillip Ault and Edward Emery, connected the beginnings of this kind of writing to the rise of American industrialization and urbanization. 

The use of the term "New Journalism" saw broader popularity during the middle part of the 20th century, although the meanings used to describe the style varied greatly and usually carried little connection to each other. James E. Murphy, a political cartoonist best known for his work in the early part of the 20th century, once stated many uses of the term appear to be referring to something more specific than a mere new direction for news reporting. Author, teacher and journalist Curtis D. MacDougall took the definition a bit further in the preface of the sixth edition of his book, Interpretive Reporting, with his assessment that the style combines everything from activism and advocacy to investigative and humanistic approaches as well as "a few more."

In 1960 journalist and former Pulitzer Prize official John Hohenberg characterized New Journalism as a way to explain and inform the reader, adding "it even dares to teach, to measure, to evaluate." Hohenberg offered this definition in his work titled The Professional Journalist, which was published in 1960.

Other interpretations of New Journalism broke the genre into several categories like new nonfiction, alternative journalism (also known as "modern muckraking"), underground journalism, advocacy journalism and precision journalism.

Capote took this particular writing method to a new level with the release of his 1965 best-selling book In Cold Blood, a work that offered a detailed account of the 1959 slaying of the Herbert Clutter family in Kansas. 

Capote, who insisted he was not a journalist but a literary artist, claimed he created a new approach that breathed life into current events that he called the nonfiction novel. Capote's reasons for developing the story in this way were rooted in his belief that reporting could be more powerful when the writer incorporated blow-by-blow recounting of events through the use of dialogue and first-hand accounts. Using interviews with investigators and people in the Clutter family's home community of Holcomb as his guide, Capote took six years to complete the novel. Upon its release literary critics of the time called In Cold Blood an example of New Journalism, although some who were involved in the actual event later challenged Capote's claims that the book was completely factual.

Today's readers view the New Journalism approach as far more accepted, and in some cases, expected, which is good news for those writers who hunger to dig deeper into a story and offer audiences something more than facts and data. And according to a 1993 study by the American Society of Newspaper Editors, readers consider a narrative approach as more interesting and superior to the standard inverted pyramid model when it comes to communicating information.

What that indicates is that thanks to the evolution of New Journalism, readers now seek out those articles that provide an experience that is informative but carries additional literary elements that keep them coming back again and again.