Telling the Story of Gonzo Journalism

Countless numbers of students have themselves planted in a seat, reaching into the corners of their brains to write about topics they have no knowledge of, striving to put together a seemingly intelligent yet complex sentence, like this one. String together a page; that’s a whole article right there.

Of course, there are Wikipedia articles, CNN news stories and random Facebook links to pull information from (some of which will even shape your mind and consequently, your life). They’ll give you the full history of gonzo and new journalism if you were ever tempted to squeeze out the energy to type it into the search bar and skim to the important, juicy stuff. In fact, it’s how our minds have been trained for years now to do so. Thank you, Internet.

If I were a gonzo journalist, this is how I’d write- eerily similar to a mediocre blog post. With enough action, it’d be much better.

Gonzo journalism takes writers whose minds are overloaded with ideas, conceptions and multiple perceptions of the world and presents stories filled with emotion, sarcasm and humor.

It disregards the strictly edited style of traditional newspaper media and provides a more personal style of storytelling. The style was popularized by 70s writer Hunter S. Thompson, and is the same method of narrative “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” is told in.

In a Rolling Stones magazine interview, Thompson commented, “If I’d written the truth I knew for the past ten years, about 600 people—including me—would be rotting in prison cells from Rio to Seattle today. Absolute truth is a very rare and dangerous commodity in the context of professional journalism.”

In 1970, Bill Cordoso coined the term “gonzo” after Thompson’s story, “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved.” It’s unclear what the origin of the word is, but one speculation is that the same word was a South Boston Irish slang used to describe the last man standing after an all-night drinking marathon.

Thompson’s style is based on the notion that “fiction is often the best fact,” an idea presented by William Faulkner.

Recreational drugs and alcohol use added another dimension to Thompson’s gonzo journalism pieces, which followed in a stream of consciousness writing style.

Preceding gonzo journalism in the 60s and 70s was “New Journalism,” a term used to describe newswriting that employed subjectivity and dared to measure and evaluate while informing and reporting.

Some stories were told as short narratives rather than magazine articles. Fiction techniques were applied to emphasize the mysteries of current events.

The result isn’t just novels nor prose, but a combination of elements that include both. The advantage is that readers know that what they’re reading actually happened. The boundary between writer and reader is erased; that degree of separation is gone and reader is that much closer to absolute involvement.

Some argue that remnants of gonzo journalism exist in the growing popularity of citizen journalism today.



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