Journalism as Fiction

fiction-is-often-the-best-factUp until the 1960’s reporters were held to strict traditional ideals, the style and form of most conventional journalism lacked colour and vigour and encouraged only the relaying of the bare bones established facts. Tom Wolfe, an American journalist, took issue with this rigid form, believing that this way of reporting often lacked the larger interpretive truth that ‘precluded readers from exercising informed judgement.’ (Kallan) Wolfe began writing in a novelistic form that fused the depth and realism of stylistic features with the factual structured ideals.

This imaginative reporting style “brought out the sights, sounds and feel surrounding the facts, and connected them by comparison with other facts of history, society, and literature in an artistic manner that does not diminish but gives great depth and dimension to the facts.” (Wakefield, 1966) This ‘New Journalism’ tore down old values and introduced reporting techniques that excited readers with its deep and detailed narratives.

Like Wolfe, Hunter S. Thompson aided in popularising this new movement with ‘Gonzo Journalism’, a first person account that mixed subjective experience with objective facts. Others have followed more recently in this first person journalistic style with documentaries such as ‘Fahrenheit 9/11’, ‘Supersize Me’ and ‘Bowling for Columbine’. However, in the era of big budget films, documentary makers can often lose their touch with the traditional core values of journalism in order to produce something that is stylish and commercially successful.

Here arises the question as to whether it is more ethical not to tell the truth? Or simply to tell it your own way?

“Subtraction may distort the reality the journalist is trying to represent, the result is still nonfiction, still journalism. The addition of invented material, however, changes the nature of the beast. When we add a scene that did not occur or a quote that was never uttered, we cross the line into fiction. And we deceive the reader.”  – (Roy Peter Clark, 2001)

Whittled down, the sole purpose of a journalist is to disseminate factual unbiased information to those who may be otherwise none the wiser. Because of this, I feel that it is irrelevant the storytelling devices through which one may choose to present the truth, as long as it is the truth that is being told; to me, the omission of the truth is as bad as lying.

Despite this, it cannot be disputed that ‘New Journalism’ has given new life to an old trade, using contemporary devices to create broad infotainment that can be used to reach more audiences than ever before.