Posted by: Melany | August 10, 2009

Intro to Literary Journalism

Literary journalism sounds both exciting and terrifying. Upon looking over the work of literary journalists, I am impressed by the level of research and creativity needed for every paragraph and am envious of their talent. I will do my best to conquer this challenge this semester; however I know I have my work cut out for me. The best thing to do will be to read as many literary journalism articles as I can to wrap my head around the elements of this variety of story-telling. During this process I will decide what topic to focus my own article on and research this area of interest.

I am currently reading Truman Capote’s literary journalism masterpiece, In Cold Blood. I am hoping to understand the techniques that he uses to bring the story to life with rich, well-crafted language.

To further understand the concept of literary journalism, I decided to turn to the internet.

I found an interesting webpage on ABC’s The Media Report. Jackie May refers to literary journalism as:

It’s a style that marries fictional writing tools with cold hard facts to deliver a lot more than your average news story.

This article then explores examples of literary journalism and the definitions used by those who write in this style.

In the same article, Matthew Ricketson, says:

Literary journalism is better researched and better written than daily journalism; literary journalism plumbs emotional depths in ways that daily journalism studiously avoids, or clunks around. Literary journalism makes a deeper connection with its readers. A good piece of literary journalism stays with readers, like a good novel stays with a reader. To paraphrase the American critic, Ezra Pound, ‘Literary journalism is news that stays news’.

I think the point he makes about the ability of literary journalism to stay with the reader is a key point.  This is illustrated in the long life of In Cold Blood. A novel that is still enormously popular with readers, many years after it was written.

From class I have learnt the following in relation to literary journalism.

Literary journalism is an article with the description and detail of a novel but the story is non-fiction.

This style was popularised in the 1960s in relation to Esquire Magazine.

  • New journalism is still reporting in a third person perspective
  • Narrative journalism
  • Intimate journalism
  • Immersion journalism – long periods of connection with subjects
  • Creative non-fiction – memoir, travel writing
  • New new journalism – involves the author in the story.

New Journalism

True story created from:

  • scenes
  • whole dialogues (extended dialogue, not just quotes)
  • point of view (author, or author developing point of view of character)
  • details of characters’ “status life” (who they are, clothes, signs, where they fit in – tell the reader through these details without spelling it)
  • Tom Wolfe

New New Journalism

  • Rigorously reported
  • psychologically astute (get inside of characters’ heads) – their inner life
  • sociologically sophisticated (where the person fits in terms of culture)
  • politically aware
  • Robert Boynton

Art of Personal Reportage

  • Historical sweep
  • Attention to language
  • Participation and immersion
  • Symbolic realities
  • Accuracy
  • Sense of time and place
  • Grounded observations
  • Context
  • Voice
  • Norman Simms

Additional Notes from Class

  • Never communicate anything through one means
  • Also depend on dialogue, psycholigcal analysis – everything combined creates the narrative
  • Very layered. Approach a meaning, message, narrative from a number of different ways.
  • You have the luxury of using recognisable cue, for example smoking, clothing – but don’t rely on this

Style and Soul

  • Researched
  • Personal
  • Styled
  • Symbolic


  • Capote famously spent five year researching and writing In Cold Blood. Other writers spend years researching.
  • This is the commitment to the fact
  • Also a commitment to detail and depth – more than just the facts
  • Acknowledges that understanding is difficult.


  • The bias of voice, not the bias of inaccuracy
  • The author can choose to be in the story in various ways, or can opt to not be a character in the story, rather making it personal via the selection of what to write about
  • Reporting the reporting
  • Report the reactions
  • Alternate personal with other narratives
  • The reader has the choice to judge the author and decide whether or not they trust them


  • You can move around from element to element in a meditative style. Allow your mind to wander and lead the reader along this path.
  • Freedom to wander and move from piece to piece – structure, rhythm, pattern, flow of language.


  • Uses the resources of literary description
  • Characterisation
  • Plot
  • Scenes
  • A created / creative work
  • Not about adjectives or devices – it’s about rhythm, pattern and structure


  • The story if always about the meaning of the story – not just the chronology of the story
  • Stories with mythic resonance
  • Brings the everyday into connection with the social and political and spiritual
  • Compassionate


  • Pull a range of elements from your own personal life experience into the story
  • List of things you may hear at the pub “crazy facts” juxtaposed
News Values Literary Values
Timeliness Reflection after the event
Currency The everyday of currency
Conflict Tension and ambiguity
Novelty Novelty and irony
Proximity Brings the far away close
Celebrity Everyday
Impact Symbolic

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