The New New Journalism: Conversations on Craft With America's Best Non-Fiction Writers, and The New New Journalism:Conversations on Craft With America's Best Non-Fiction Writers
Robert S. Boyton
Reviewed by Belinda Acosta, Fri., March 11, 2005
The New New Journalism: Conversations with America's Best Nonfiction Writers on Their Craft
by Robert S. Boynton
Vintage, 304 pp., $13.95 (paper)When Tom Wolfe's introduction to The New Journalism appeared in the 1970s, did he anticipate the semantic fallout his term would create? Nebulous terms like "creative nonfiction," "literary nonfiction," and even "gonzo journalism" (thanks to the late Hunter S. Thompson) have followed in the wake of Wolfe's manifesto praising nonfiction and journalistic writing. Used interchangeably, the terms create as much consternation as Wolfe's original essay. At the same time, Wolfe's work is a significant touchstone. It didn't just raise the profile of nonfiction writing: It opened a floodgate of narrative approaches to the form, some of which have created tensions between those who bank on the side of accurate reportage and painstaking research, and those who create truth from dubious sources and anecdotal evidence (as in the case of Edmund Morris' Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan, for instance).
However, creative approaches to narrative that Wolfe's essay inspired and the uneasy marriage of fact and fiction that some nonfiction writers depend on are not the focus of Robert S. Boynton's The New New Journalism. After an engrossing introduction retracing Wolfe's seminal essay, as well as precursors to Wolfe and the new journalism vanguard, Boynton turns his attention to craft. Ted Conover, Susan Orlean, Eric Schlosser, Gay Talese, and Calvin Trillin are among the 19 contemporary writers Boynton interviews in a Q&A format to plumb how they approach their work. Because one of Boynton's original goals was to create a text he could share with his magazine-writing students at NYU, the questions range from the mundane (Tape recorder or pen-and-paper note-taking? Where do you get your ideas?) to more substantive questions regarding ethics and privacy rights.
While interviewees are distinguished for their style and subject matter, what attracts Boynton is their approach. All the writers have immersed themselves for an extended length of time in their subjects' lives prior to creating their final books or articles. They work with an anthropologist's perseverance, sometimes undercover, sometimes with full disclosure to their subjects, but always with a distinct "dedication to the craft of reporting." Or, as Boynton suggests, "Wolfe went inside his characters' heads; the new new journalists become part of their lives."
Given the current fascination for reality programming, the growth of blogs, and diminishing readership for print media, Boynton offers a valuable primer for how strong journalism and the attention to craft practiced by his featured writers have created a "literature of the everyday." The New New Journalism compels readers to seek alternatives to the current infotainment-soaked culture.