Monday, February 21, 2005

Rest In Peace

Most of us working in blogging owe a great deal to the pioneers of what was called "the New Journalism" back in the sixties. They include writers like Tom Wolfe and, of course, Hunter Thompson, who was discovered dead by his own hand today.

Thompson was the larger than life subject of most of his own nonfiction reports in major magazine and he was one of those innovative journalists who challenged the gray, institutional prose of the corporate pages of respectable newspapers like the New York Times, the Washington Post and other news outlets of the day.

Of course, the press in America has always had a colorful side, with its tabloids and yellow journalism, but by the 1950s, respectable newspapers and magazines had grown colorless in their respectability and their veneer of objectivity.

Journalists like Thompson, Wolfe, Joan Didion, Pete Hamill, and Jimmy Breslin challenged the cult of objectivity and brought life to their subjects by writing about them from a more personal point of view and often with colorful and quirky language. Their vivid descriptions of their subjects brought the reader intimately into the world they were describing and gave us an insight into the minds and hearts of those they interviewed, and even into themselves as writers. Their work frequently read like the best fiction. These writers shared their personal insights and reactions to their subjects with their readers and were tremendously generous with their views in ways that the traditional media couldn't be.

Thompson was perhaps the most radical of all of them with his self-invented brand of gonzo journalism.

Although most bloggers don't ride with motorcycle gangs or imbibe huge and life threatening amounts of drugs and alcohol as Hunter Thompson did, we all practice a personal style of journalism where we do more than investigate and report facts. Like Thompson, we share insights, opinions, feelings and our own life experiences with our readers. We do personal journalism and it no longer feels strange to readers. In fact, they look forward to it and want to know our reactions to our subjects as much as they want the hard facts.

We all owe Hunter Thompson and the other "New Journalists" of an earlier era a tremendous debt for pushing the envelope when they did. Before there was blogging, they dared to light up a dull gray sky with verbal pyrotechnics and added light, action, and life to journalism.

So, rest in peace, Hunter Thompson.

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