Wednesday, February 23, 2005

On Gonzo Journalism and Blogging

I haven't posted much lately, because I'm having trouble with my second phone line.  Since I'm on call this week, I can't tie up my other phone line for a long period of time.  I live too far from town to get broadband cable or DSL.

Since I have to get to work soon, I won't spend a lot of time now. 

Hunter S. Thompson died a few days ago, an apparent suicide.  I wasn't going to write about this, but I saw that two of the blogs I read often -- Pharygula and Mousemusings -- have posted on the subject.  I'm sure others have, but those two are the ones I've seen. 

Personally, I did not respect Mr. Thompson.  I did, however, respect his notion of gonzo journalism.  Specifically, I liked the idea that a reporter could participate in the subject of the report, and include his own thoughts and feelings about the matter. 

This style of journalism would have developed sooner or later anyway, and in fact he might not have been the first to do this.  But he deserves credit for being among the first to do this and to do it with a particular style. 

Why does this matter?

There has been debate lately about whether blogging is "real" journalism.  Well, perhaps it is not.  But it is gonzo journalism, at least at times.  People write about their lives, about things in which they have participated, and there share freely what they think about it and what their emotional responses were.  There is no notion of observing without influencing.  There is no pretense of objectivity.  There is no particular reward, either, other than the satisfaction of doing it.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Gonzo journalism is a journalistic style, most famously used by Hunter S. Thompson. The name was coined by Bill Cardoso. Central to Gonzo journalism is the notion that journalism can be more truthful without strict observance of traditional rules of factual reportage. The best work in the genre is characterised by  standards of accuracy subjugated to catching the mood of a place or event.

Gonzo journalism is an extension of the New Journalism championed by Tom Wolfe, Lester Bangs, and George Plimpton. "I don't get any satisfaction out of the old traditional journalist's view - 'I just covered the story. I just gave it a balanced view,'" Thompson said in an interview for Atlantic Unbound. "Objective journalism is one of the main reasons American politics has been allowed to be so corrupt for so long. You can't be objective about Nixon. How can you be objective about Clinton?" In Thompson's work there is frequently a distorted viewpoint brought on by the author's consumption of drugs and alcohol (usually recorded in the article for posterity).

Other writers whose work may be categorised as "gonzo" include P. J. O'Rourke and Tim Jones.

Most blogging is not done under the influence of mind-altering substances, but that is not an essential part of gonzo journalism.  It also is not a particularly good idea.  In fact, substance abuse is a major risk factor for suicide.