"Journalism's Woodstock" - Old vs. New Journalism in a decade of change

Term Paper, 2007

13 Pages, Grade: 1,7




1. Introduction

2. Old Journalism
2.1. Brief History
2.2. Basic Principles of News Writing.
2.3. The Conservative Journalist
2.4. Criticism

3. New Journalism
3.1. History and Origins
3.2. Characteristics
3.3. The New Journalist
3.4. Criticism

4. Conclusion

5. Works Cited

1. Introduction

New Journalism caused a sensation in the turbulent 1960s when young American writers – both journalists and novelists – began to blur the lines between fact and fiction. The traditional rules defining journalism and literature did not exist anymore – at least in the heads of many new journalists. Tom Wolfe, Truman Capote, Norman Mailer, Joan Didion, and Hunter S. Thompson were only a few of many representatives who raised a heated discussion about the obligation to be objective in print journalism. Notwithstanding, the turning away from the impersonal, almost clinical news journalism and the shift towards an authentic, emotional, yet nonfictional style of writing reflected the atmosphere of the 60s and 70s in America.

The paper sets out to explore the phenomenon of New Journalism, its techniques, as well as its meaning within the decade of its emergence. In order to give an insight into the self-conception of New Journalists, their research strategies will be explained exemplarily. Furthermore, traditional journalistic techniques will be further elaborated and compared to those of New Journalism. How do newspaper journalists work and write? What principles underlie their writing and how did these rules evolve in the first place? Chapter 2 gives answers to these questions. Finally, claiming objectivity to be the absolute when it comes to representing the truth, is questionable. Rather, both Old and New Journalism can sensibly complement each other.

2. Old Journalism

In this paper the term ‘Old Journalism’ is not restricted to the time prior to the 1960s, the decade denoting the birth of New Journalism. It rather describes the established and traditional style of news reporting common for newspapers all over the world down to the present day. This style has undergone changes in the past, and certainly will in the future, just as language is in constant change.

2.1. Brief History

Since the phenomenon of New Journalism is exclusively American (Haas/Wallisch 310), this paper’s brief historical approach to news writing will also be restricted to what is now the United States of America. In the early 1700s Colonial newspapers were issued once or twice a week along the East Coast: “Writing style varied from item to item within a single newspaper and from printer to printer, but with rare exceptions it was likely to be artless, colloquial and unsophisticated” (Fox 4 f.). There was no such thing as reporting, and “printers used whatever news came into their shop or what they could glean from other newspapers, foreign and domestic” (Fox 4). Wooden hand presses were used until they were replaced by iron presses in the first half of the 19th century (Fox 4 f.) “When combined with new and more legible typefaces, this development made the newspaper of the day – usually four pages, tabloid size – a much more attractive and readable product” (Fox 5).

Around the same time, publishers discovered that reporters were a worthwhile investment: Instead of waiting for the news to come in by itself, reporters could just as well actively search for it (Fox 5). “But even with these advances, the news story continued to be rambling, obtuse and laced with political diatribe and moral indignation. Not until the late 1840s, when newspapers were linked to the telegraph wire, was there any real pressure to change the way news was written” (Fox 5). Since there were only few telegraph operators but many competitors, reporters were forced to shorten their stories significantly in order to meet their papers’ deadlines (Fox 5). The first paragraphs became complete summaries of the news, in order for the reporters to be able to send the most important facts right away (Fox 5 f.). “Then, as they gained additional time on the wire, they would send more details but always in descending order of importance” (Fox 6). This way, stories were always comprehensible: “Thus was born the ‘inverted pyramid’ story, a staple of modern journalism []” (Fox 6 f.).

In addition to the telegraph, the typewriter shaped news style as well: Initially used by Associated Press telegraph operators since 1884, newspaper editors were quickly convinced of the machines’ advantages and bought them for their own use (Fox 7). “By composing on the typewriter, journalists became, in effect, publishers of their own writing. [] Forced by the typewriter to be both authors and critics of their own work, reporters soon discarded their wordy and colloquial style for the stripped-down prose that would become synonymous with newspaper journalism” (Fox 7 f.).

In 1913, telegraph key and Morse code were replaced by Teletype. “[It] provided newspapers with complete, typed stories [], it was far simpler for newspapers [all over the United States] to adopt the style of the wire services than to make the wire copy conform to their own” (Fox 8). With the 20th century also came electronic technology: radio, film and television provided alternative ways to stay informed and became immediately popular (Fox 10). Furthermore, tabloid newspapers and weekly newsmagazines were introduced and “excelled in vivid writing that would be copied by the standard-sized dailies” (Fox 10). Especially news coverage of radio stations challenged the press: “it was becoming increasingly clear that newspaper readers who had heard the Hindenburg zeppelin disaster on radio live from Lakehurst, New Jersey, [...] would come to expect more from a print media than a standardized news story (Fox 11). Summing up facts was not sufficient any more: “In the electronic age, news needed meaning and context, and the task of providing them took on a special name: interpretation” (Fox 11). Newsmagazines, journals of opinion and radio quickly managed to provide the Americans with news analysis, while most of the newspapers’ editors decided to stick to objectivity (Fox 11). The 1960s brought along change: Television had become immensely popular with the American public, and the daily press was battling for its existence (Fox 11). First the underground papers, and finally the established dailies “[began] to seriously experiment with a more meaningful presentation of news”, but it was not until the 1970s that interpretation became a fully established principle of newspaper writing (Fox 11 f.).

In the 1970s, computerized editing systems were introduced to the newsrooms and not only simplified but also improved newspaper writing (Fox 12). Nowadays, the word journalism conveys much more than the image of the daily press: countless newspapers and magazines covering all kinds of interests, radio and television broadcasting, and not least the internet with numerous news operations are all part of journalism (Fox 13). But since it all started with the newspaper, this form of journalism is of particular importance: “The great legacy of the daily newspaper era has been the development of a clear prose style, free not only of idiom and colloquialism but also of the literary and moral cant that marred so much of 19th-century writing” (Fox 13).


Excerpt out of 13 pages


"Journalism's Woodstock" - Old vs. New Journalism in a decade of change
University of Hannover  (Englisches Seminar)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
400 KB
Woodstock, Journalism, New Journalism, 1960s, Sixties, Gonzo, Hunter S. Thompson, Hells Angels
Quote paper
Anonymous, 2007, "Journalism's Woodstock" - Old vs. New Journalism in a decade of change, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/83127


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