ahhh...a good read.
July 28, 2007 6:24 AM   Subscribe

The New New Journalism with short bios of a range of selected journalists compiled by Robert S. Boynton director of NYU's magazine journalism program. Remember New Journalism ? and now a look forward. Those who don't read much might prefer this.
posted by adamvasco (11 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
As long as the "New New Journalism" sticks to third person narrative and doesn't suck up to people in power by shilling falsehoods about foreign enemies, then count me in.

posted by spoobnooble at 7:22 AM on July 28, 2007

I don't get it whats wrong with first person narrative? Isn't it inherently more honest to write about the world as a person and not some omniscient narrator ?
posted by Rubbstone at 7:46 AM on July 28, 2007

I love the way Michael Lewis digs into a story.
posted by caddis at 7:51 AM on July 28, 2007

Discovered Ted Conover by way of this book. His Rolling Nowhere and Newjack are great. Working almost a year at Sing Sing as a CO is dedication for a story...
posted by starman at 9:18 AM on July 28, 2007

Oooo, his style is irritating, isn't it? "Prose poets of the quotidian". What's wrong with the word "everyday", for Zark's sake? It makes me want to pick nits.

"The days in which nonfiction writers test the limits of language and form have largely passed." Yuk! If he means that few nonfiction writers these days test the limits of form, he should say so. Instead we are given a horrible, completely unresolvable image that demands to be expressed in the past and the present tense at the same time.

"The New New Journalists have revived the tradition of American literary journalism, raising it to a more popular and commercial level that neither its 19th or late 20th century predecessors ever imagined."

"more popular...that"? He means either, "to a popular..." or "than either of its". As it stands, this sentence is unedited rubbish. Also, isn't at least one of the words in "popular and commercial" redundant?


Sorry, I've no idea why that piece put me in that sort of mood. It's actually quite interesting in its way. It just got on my tits. Cheers for the post, adamvasco.
posted by howfar at 9:37 AM on July 28, 2007

Isn't this still just "new journalism?" The editor says the extra "new" is warranted because these writers find new ways of reporting the story, immersing themselves in the environment. But isn't that what Truman Capote and Tom Wolfe did? I'm not seeing a difference here. I'll probably buy the book anyway, though, because I'm a sucker for these books where writers talk about their craft. So thanks, adamvasco, for helping me spend more money.
posted by IcyJuly at 11:27 AM on July 28, 2007

Isn't it inherently more honest to write about the world as a person and not some omniscient narrator ?

Rubbstone: It can also be more narcissicistic. Also, since first-person accounts are also constructed realities, they are no less rhetoric than any impersonal writing. So they are not necessarily more honest. Personal stories are very persuasive precisely because they *seem* to be more inherently honest.

Also, If you think of an article or book as a limited amount of space to get X objectives done, then you see why it can, for some objectives, be detrimental to use first-person narrative.

For example, if I'm reading Stephen Hawking's Brief History of Time, I don't really want to know what he was eating for lunch when he wrote the chapter on Wormholes. At least, not unless it gives me insight on wormholes.

In creative nonfiction, personal narrative is generally used for one of at least three reasons:

1. Because the nonfiction writer doesn't have a story ( or can't write one ), and instead writes about him or herself.
2. Because the writer is inextricable from the story (Timothy Garton-Ash in The File. He had already written his book on the German Democratic Republic. This was the story of his own experiences during that time. Or Desmond Tutu's No Future Without Forgiveness. How could he talk about the Truth and Reconciliation commission without appearing as a character?
3. In pop anthropology. See 1 and 2.
4. The writer wants the publication to pay for him or her to enjoy experience X and write about it. Orwell, for example, spent a year(?) homeless.

When writing, it can be very useful to efface yourself. If you're expressing opinions, for example, you don't have to tell us that they are your opinions. This is implied by the fact that you're bothering to write them down and put your name next to an article. We don't always care how you came by them, so long as you can present them well and defend them.
posted by honest knave at 5:12 PM on July 28, 2007

honest knave, as far as I am aware, Orwell lived in Paris for two years (the first section of Down and Out...). During this time he was not often homeless, but rather paid for his accommodation, and the experiences he "enjoyed", by teaching English, writing articles, and eventually working as a plongeur in hotels and then a restaurant kitchen. On his return to England (the second section), Orwell spent a number of months living in either cheap hotels or "spikes", the accommodation provided for tramps on a one night only basis, one of the things that kept tramps tramping.

Down and Out in Paris and London seems a rather badly chosen example to illustrate your point 4, I have to say. As an experience, the main advantage of poverty is that it is cheap, and so does not require much paying for.

Addressing your broader point. I am myself largely distrustful of first person narrative in reporting. However, your tone is perhaps overly dismissive. While the fact that we live in an age where the words "based on a true story" are used to justify any amount of redundant old tripe is certainly something to regret, this doesn't necessarily devalue first person narrative as an authorial choice.

Your list neglects the possibility that writers sometimes choose first person narratives because they have a set of facts and opinions, and believe the format to be the best way to "present them well and defend them". The restricted case you give as option 2 is not the only situation in which first person narratives can be justified from a journalistic or aesthetic standpoint.
posted by howfar at 7:27 PM on July 28, 2007

I always thought it was the duty of the reporter to disappear. To write as if out of frame. The trouble with the first-person is that it becomes all about the ego of the reporter, how they see it, not as it should objectively be seen.
posted by MrMerlot at 7:41 PM on July 28, 2007

your tone is perhaps overly dismissive

howfair: fair enough. Not intended, though.

On Orwell: Hehee. Yeah. It does look silly next to the previous sentence. A better example would be Tony Hawks trying to play tennis against the Moldovan football team. And in that case, it's actually interesting/funny.

I should clarify. I chose Orwell because there's a common impression that creative nonfiction is solely an American phenomenon. Whlie it is true that the New Journalism movement seems to have been connected with a set of American writers, it's not limited to them.

The restricted case you give as option 2 is not the only situation in which first person narratives can be justified from a journalistic or aesthetic standpoint.

True. I think I was kneejerk reacting to some of the low quality writing resulting from the current popularity of first person narrative. To do so was rather unfair. Thanks for noting that.
posted by honest knave at 12:35 AM on July 29, 2007

Tony Hawks trying to play tennis against the Moldovan football team

Tony Hawks is an interesting example to pick, actually. I listened to the audio version of his book about trying to get a hit single somewhere in the world on a car journey about a year ago, and he expressed, at the beginning, a desire not to be known as the 'guy who does stuff for a bet'. He then gives us another whole book about being a guy who does something for a bet. This seems to me to be suggestive of a deeper problem with first-person 'literary non-fiction' (is Tony Hawks 'literary'? Apart from, 'listen, for I am very clever and I approve of this", what does 'literary' mean, anyway?). People start with a story or an idea that is best recounted from a first person perspective, tell it, and then find themselves trapped in either a creative or commercial (most likely the latter) groove, typecast in their role.

Bill Bryson seems to have 'suffered' this fate. The Lost Continent was a specific story about a search for an idea of small-town America, and Bryson's particular perspective as an Anglophile ex-pat fitted this very neatly, producing an interesting and original piece of travel writing. He has been typecast ever since. He is still an engaging and amusing writer, and has sensibly used the clout of his brand to produce and market other kinds of books, but his brand is tied to the highly subjective and anecdotal travelogue.

This is, of course, more to do with the commodification of literature than it is to do with 'New Journalism', 'New New Journalism' or anything else. In Britain, the corporate homogenisation of high-street bookshops, and competition from the supermarkets, has led to difficulties for the authors that it is making richer, as well as for the authors that is making poorer. This was discussed in the recent "Hypey Potter" thread.

Helen Fielding is a good example of this in fiction. Bridget Jones Diary was a clever, funny book, with good gags and a refreshing self awareness. It was converted by the big booksellers, supermarkets and women's magazines into a publishing phenomenon and a literary brand, and Bridget Jones became an aspirational, rather than satirical, figure . After a rather half-hearted sequel, Fielding produced a rushed attempt at a genre change, a little contemporary relevance and a dose self-satire, while still staying within the confines of her brand. It received mixed reviews, and, commercially, in comparison with Bridget Jones..., tanked. Fielding, as an individual, has made huge amounts of money; as a brand, she has facilitated huge amount of advertising; as a writer, I'm not sure that she has been left with very much. The idea of authorial voice (and I'm slowly coming back to the point here) is establishing a death-grip on the whole publishing industry. Ideas of authorship and authenticity are becoming confused and so writers become brands. Writers are expected to produce something 'true to themselves' rather than to their ideas or their experiences.

In other news, don't buy the Sainsbury's £3.99 Cava, it tastes like cheap licorice bootlaces. On the other hand, I've nearly finished the bottle, so.....
posted by howfar at 9:26 AM on July 29, 2007

« Older Big Wheel Keeps on Turning   |   Backstroke from plink Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments