HCJ FOUR: (The New Journalism) Tom Wolfe

New Journalism

New Journalism was an American literary movement in the 1960s and ’70s that pushed the boundaries of traditional journalism and nonfiction writing. Tom Wolfe was one of the most influential promoters of the New Journalism but gave credit to Gay Talese for establishing the New Journalism as a literary movement.

A brief history of American Journalism:

  • The Penny Papers in America were deeply partisan and consisted of merchants and politicians.
  • Mid-19th Century objectivity became a factor in journalism because of the creation of wire services. The Associated Press (AP) needed objectivity to be profitable.
  • The (first) New Journalism known as The Yellow Press’ arrived in the late 19th Century.
  • The world of William Randolph Hearst of the New York Journal and Joseph Pulitzer of the New York World.

Yellow Journalism:

Sensationalisation represents the huge, emotive headlines with big striking pictures – i.e. The Sun on Sunday. Newspapers consisted of exclusives, dramatic stories, romantic stories, shocking stories and crime stories, ect.

Michael Emery and Edwin Emery, the authors of The Press and America, referred to “Yellow Journalism” as ‘the new journalism without souls’ as all the stories were about sin, sex and violence.

America in the 1960s and ’70s was similar to that of the time of Hearst and the Yellow Press. There was a great deal of political and social upheaval in fighting foreign wars and even more serious military threats building overseas.

Journalists recorded the events of the day in a formulaic way. As opposed to creating a news pyramid (Five Ws); The New Journalism was an attempt to record events mirroring language and style (letting it bleed into the copy).

Political and Cultural scene

The 1960s was particularly turbulent:

  • Great hope of JFK was destroyed with his assassination in 1963.
  • There was the disastrous war in Vietnam and thus the controversy of the draft – Muhammed Ali refused to be conscripted – “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong.”
  • In regards to demographics there was the ‘baby boom’ which created a powerful youth culture – baby boomers hitting their teens in the 1960s.
  • There was the sexual revolution – sexual freedom, the pill, Reichian free love.
  • The student movement – worldwide protests of 1968 – Civil rights, Black Power – use of LSD (introduced by CIA) to access altered thinking of counterculture.
  • The prohibition of drugs created subcultures – Hippies, communes, collectives etc – and established much of youth culture has other – deviant.


For Satre, Jazz was authentic, the music of 1960s was a full frontal attack on the norms, drug fueled (Doors) and anti-establishment (Bob Dylan) – with the aim to subvert and be political.

Gil Scott Heron wrote The Revolution Will Not be Televised, a poem and song first recorded  for his 1970 album Small Talk at 125th and Lenox.

“The revolution will be live – the revolution will put you in the driving seat”

Influence of Existentialism

Ideas informed by Existentialism:

  1. Heidegger’s ‘Authenticity’: the issue of ‘Being’. By using the expression ‘Dasein’, Heidegger postulated that one may exist in either one of two modes (authenticity or inauthenticity). Dasin’s character needs to be understood a-priori as being ‘grounded’ in the state of Being that he called ‘Being-in-the-world’.
  2. Satre’s ‘Bad Faith’whereby a human being under pressure from societal forces adopts false values and disowns his/her innate freedom to act inauthentically. Bad faith is paradoxical: when acting in bad faith, a person is both aware and, in a sense, unaware that they are free. 

For example – Sartre cites a café waiter, whose movements and conversation are a little too “waiter-esque” – “his movement is quick and forward, a little too precise, a little too rapid”.  His exaggerated behaviour illustrates that he is acting as a waiter, as an object in the world: an automaton whose essence is to be a waiter. But that he is obviously acting belies that he is aware that he is not (merely) a waiter, but is rather consciously deceiving himself.

Fanon’s Freedom and Choice:

Fanon’s view of a path to freedom via accelerated choice (violence). In Fanon’s view, the act of violence is the extreme expression of choice – choice with real, immediate impact.

Malcolm X on Extremism:

“I don’t believe in any form of unjustified extremism! But when a man is exercising extremism — a human being is exercising extremism — in defense of liberty for human beings it’s no vice, and when one is moderate in the pursuit of justice for human beings I say he is a sinner.” – Oxford Union Debate (3 December 1964)


In the 1960s a group of psychotherapists challenged Freudian theories on the subconscious. Inspired by Wilhelm Reich (a former pupil of Sigmund Freudthey too believed that the inner-self should not be repressed but encouraged to express itself. The resulting socio-political movement sought to create a new kind of citizen free from psychological conformity.

The idea that “there is a policeman inside your head – he must be destroyed” began to find its way into journalism.

Journalists questioned whether basing stories on press releases, press conferences and official statements made by the establishment was really objective and a true reflection of events – i.e. ‘Bad Faith’.

New forms of journalism:

Journalists began to focus on setting, plot, sounds, feelings, direct quotes and images, while still being as careful as before with facts. Truman Capote, Tom Wolfe and Norman Mailer are examples of this new breed. This alternative journalism was personal and expressed an individual point of view. It was also unconventional, disagreeable, disruptive, unfriendly, and anti-power structure.

Shift in form of narration from DIEGETIC to MIMETIC (“Telling” to “Seeing”):

In New Journalism ‘Objectivity’ [authority’s message] is discarded in favour of subjective experience. The most famous example of this is Tom Wolfe.

Wolfe was huge fan of Emile Zola, who was considered as one of the greatest writers of natural realism.

“Zola crowned himself as the first scientific novelist, a “naturalist,” to use his term, studying the human fauna.”  – Wolfe.

Emile Zola’s, J’ACCUSE published in January 1899 created a strong provocation selling 200,000 copies.

In regards to journalism Wolfe primarily notices ‘the status competition’.

Reporters are in the “scoop competition”, i.e. SKY – “First for Breaking News” and the BBC – “Updated every minute of every day”.

‘Ambulance chasers’ seek stories about “power and catastrophe”.


Features is considered “a story that fell outside the category of hard news”. The game was to hold your own in the competition until you got busy writing a novel.

The Features game was changing and new articles with real, intimate dialogue began to appear. Reporters now needed to be there to see it, to collect the data first hand. Once there, it is only a small step to becoming involved – another character in the scene – ‘Gonzo Journalism’.

“Use the whole scene, extended dialogue, point of view, and interior monologue.” – Wolfe.

Wolfe elaborates that eventually he, and others, would be accused of “entering people’s minds”:

“I figured that was one more doorbell a reporter had to push.” – Wolfe.

Journalists embraced social realism, using techniques of realism from the likes of Balzac, Zola and Dickens.

This power is said to have derived from four devices:

  1. Scene by Scene construction: telling the story in scenes and not in a mere “historical narrative”. Journalists need to be at the event to witness it.
  2. Realistic dialogue involves the reader more completely than any other single device – it also defines character more quickly and effectively than any other single device.”
  3. Third-person point of view: “giving the reader the feeling of being inside the character’s mind”. Need to interview subject about his thoughts and emotions, along with everything else.
  4. The recording of everyday gestures, habits, manners, customs, styles of furniture, modes of behaviour towards children, superiors, inferiors and other symbolic details that might exist within a scene. Symbolic of people’s status life.

About brackenstockley

Contributor to the JusticeGap and WINOL. Currently studying journalism at the University of Winchester (Year Three).
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