Books Worth Reading | The New Journalism

The New Journalism, Tom Wolfe and E.W. Johnson (Picador).
First published 1975.

Fifth in a series of livestreams YouTube.
Wednesdays at 4.30pm UK

In this recording (below) you can watch me drawing the book while talking about it before writing the review on Amazon (which you can also read in full further down this page):

Click to play.

Here’s what I wrote on Amazon:

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Outdated? Perhaps, But That Actually Helps To Show What Really Matters. (Drawing of the book by me.)
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 14 December 2022

First, I should say that the tone of the introduction gets up my nose, and the yellowy pages make the book hard to read, and the out-of-date stories in the anthology are mostly by dead white men.

Second, I’d like to suggest that this doesn’t matter – apart from the yellow pages. It may even be a plus.

Tom Wolfe wrote the introduction and the notes before each example of The New Journalism. He isn’t unduly troubled by modesty, and includes more than a few bits of his own work.

In the introduction, he sets out to show the sleepiness and laziness of most feature writers (ie, not news reporters). He says they all dreamed of becoming novelists. Then suddenly it became clear, he says, that journalism could be written like a novel. He couldn’t believe it when he first read something like that, thought the reporter had made it up, but then tried it himself and loved it.

In a nutshell, what he means is that journalists can achieve amazing things if they get out of the office and spend time on stories, immersing themselves in the worlds of the people they write about, asking difficult questions, keeping eyes open and writing lots of notes.

It sounds obvious, but when I started out as feature writer on a magazine in 1999 I was astonished by the idea. (I had been a journalist for a while.) I found Wolfe pretty bumptious even then, but was inspired by so many things he wrote, so many of the techniques and ideas used by him and by others in this anthology.

Sure, the book is full of stories about people and things that are no longer “important”. Sure, the writers are nearly all American. But to read the stories is to realise what is possible.

Two inspiring ideas that particularly leaped out today, when I re-read the book:

1. You can do this kind of journalism even if you’re diffident.
Joan Didion was so shy, according to a photographer who worked with her, that people she wrote about blurted out amazing stuff just to fill the silence. And George Plimpton hung back for so long that the people he wrote about got cross and told him to get on with it.

2. You can do this kind of journalism for daily papers.
Wolfe says his own early efforts were as short as 1500 words (a fairly common length in newspapers today). And Nicholas Tomalin, in Vietnam, went out with a murderous American general and wrote up his story all in the same day.

Anyway, I enjoyed re-reading this, and reviewing it first on YouTube – now here.

You can buy the book on Amazon:

The New Journalism, by Tom Wolfe and E.W. Johnson.

You can also, as it happens, get my drawing of the book cover on an enamel mug


Coming Up

I’m planning to do a book review like this every Wednesday at 4.30pm UK. You can see what’s coming up here:

I hope you will join me, because it could be quite fun doing this with interaction. (You won’t be visible, but can use the comments on YouTube.)