New Journalism emerged in the 1960’s as a way of writing news using literary devices. This approach was new in that era. According to Boynton (21), New Journalism emphasized truth and gave little importance to facts. When it started, many people thought that this was a new approach to writing fiction based on true events in society. The manner in which the authors would find immense themselves in their stories when reporting was considered unconventional.
As Boynton (34) notes, conventional news reporting occurs when the reporter detaches himself from the story. The reporter should be a third party. This is the only way that the report will be viewed as being impartial and objective. Identifying with part of the story would impair the judgment of the reporter. However, in New Journalism, the reporter became part of the story. This is common in fiction writing, but not journalism. That is why it was mistaken to be the work of fiction. However, the proponents of New Journalism, such as Gay Talese clarified that this was a form of journalism other than a work of fiction. In this paper, the researcher will discuss the elements of New Journalism found in Capote’s In Cold Blood and Tom Wolfe’s Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers.
The two books have used elements of New Journalism in various aspects. One way in which the scholars affirm that their works may be categorized as New Journalism is that they, as reporters, are part of the stories they tell. They do not just report what happened from a third-party perspective but immerse themselves in these reports. In order to discuss elements of New Journalism as presented in these books, it will be necessary to analyze them independently.
In Cold Blood by Capote Truman
This is a non-fiction story about the gruesome murders of Herbert, his wife, and two children. The family lived in Holcomb. As mentioned before, one feature that makes New Journalism stand out as a distinct genre is that it more closely related to fiction than conventional journalism. This is clearly evident from the first page of the report. Capote (1) starts his story by saying, “The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas.”
The author goes on to describe the village, its people, their way of life, and the infrastructural development in the area. He even describes how this village was unknown to other Americans that were not from Kansas. In fact, the first two pages do not mention anything to do with the murder of the Herbert’s. This is strange when it comes to journalism. According to Boynton (97), journalists are always keen to attract the attention of their audience as soon as they make their first sentence.
Other explanations about the incident may follow, but what must come first is a direct explanation of what the story is all about. When he mentions the murder of this family, he does it in an approach that makes it appear to be more of a fiction than a news report. Capote (3) says, “four shotgun blasts that, all told, ended six human lives.” This is not an approach that would be expected of a conventional news reporter. This is the first factor that proves that it is a work of New Journalism. It is important to look at other elements of New Journalism that were presented in the story.
Obligation to tell the truth
One of the main elements of New Journalism is the obligation, to tell the truth. According to Boynton (76), New Journalism emphasizes on the need for the authors to maintain truth in their accounts without manipulating it in any way. This is what the author did in this book. The author went to this small town and did detailed research on events preceding the murder and what happened immediately after.
Capote (5) says, “Few Americans- in fact, few Kansans- had ever heard of Holcomb.” This fact was widely reported, not just in this book, but also in other mainstream media stations. Before this gruesome murder of this family of farmers that happened in November 1959, Holcomb was not known to many Americans. The incident brought this little-known town to the limelight as top American crime detectives and media focused on the murder that shocked the entire country. Although the story is reported in a way that brings together several other issues, some of which one may argue is not directly related to the murder case, the author ensured that the report was based on true accounts.
Loyalty to citizens
According to Boynton (82), one of the most important elements of New Journalism is its loyalty to the citizens. This scholar says that the proponents of New Journalism were concerned about the impartiality of conventional journalists. Journalists are expected to investigate an issue and give a report that is impartial and straight to the point. Sometimes they are forced to ignore the other environmental factors that led to the occurrence of the events, making it difficult for the citizens to have a comprehensive knowledge of a given event.
In this book, the scholar starts by describing the environmental factors and forces that existed in the place of murder. He goes ahead to explain to the readers factors that may make them understand the events that led to the killings. This issue raised public attention, and the American citizens wanted to know more about the story. As an author responsible to the citizens, he gave comprehensive information about this murder, making it easy to understand the possible causes and the approach the murderers used to commit the crime.
Discipline of verification
According to Boynton (76), one of the fundamental duties of journalists is to give a verifiable report. Responsible journalism requires a reporter to conduct a thorough investigation before giving a report. Anyone looking to verify such information should be able to do so easily with hard facts being available in the expected sources. In this book, the author gave a verifiable report. The author traveled to Holcomb and interacted with the locals very closely in order to understand their versions of the story. This means that anyone who may want to verify the content of the report can do so by going to this village and interviewing the same people the author interviewed.
The author visited the courts to follow the proceedings of the case. Part of the story involving the prosecution of the suspects can be found in the library of the court. The author also relied on the report of other journalists. It means that anyone who may want to verify this information can do so without much struggle. As a responsible journalist, Capote (16) was concerned about giving a report that is not just based on his emotional understanding of this incident, but also the views of others who were affected or who knew about the murder.
The need for the practitioners to be independent of the people they cover
In the current society, many reporters have been accused of poor journalism because of their relationships with the people they cover. Boynton (57) says that it is almost impossible for a journalist to be impartial when he has a relationship of any sort with the people he is covering. If it is hate, the reporter will try to make the person they are covering a villain, while if it is love, then the person will be presented as a victim. In his book, Capote took a very neutral stand. He had no relationship with the victims of the murder, and neither was he related to the suspects. He was an independent reporter whose attention was drawn to a story that was of interest to society. This made it easy for him to be impartial and committed to presenting the news in its truest form possible.
The need to keep the story interesting and relevant
Unlike conventional journalists who are expected to be very specific in their reporting- probably because of limited time to air their programs or limited space in the newspapers- New Journalism allows its reporters to be a little creative in their work. In order to capture the attention of their audience, reporters in New Journalism are allowed to make their stories more interesting by injecting their own views as long as it remains relevant and verifiable.
Capote (8) says, “Members of Rupp’s family were Roman Catholics- a fact that should be sufficient to terminate fancies.” This is a personal opinion that has been injected into the story. The statement, however, is relevant and makes the story interesting. It helps the reader to know why some things could not happen the way they were expected to. This statement is also verifiable. It is true that the family members were Catholics.
The author based his argument about the impossibility of marriage fancies between the two individuals on the doctrines of the Catholics. These doctrines are widely published in Roman Catholic manuals. One assumption that he made was that as staunch Catholics, the family would follow the Catholic principles. The author notes, in this book, that majority of residents in Holcomb were Roman Catholics who were keen on following Catholic principles. This was a further justification of his assumption that the actions of these two individuals were influenced by their religious affiliations.
Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers by Tom Wolf
This is a New Journal text written by Wolf when he was working in San Francisco at the Office of Economic Opportunity. This office is the main setting of the entire text. The term Mau-Mauing was used by this author to describe the deep-rooted mistrust that existed between the poor Mau-Mauers (Blacks, Chinese, Samoan, Filipino, and Indians) and the officers at the OEP. These officers were expected to transform the lives of these marginalized groups.
Instead of doing this, they used the funds set aside for the welfare of the poor to enrich themselves. As a responsible journalist, Wolf presents this story, but in an artistic manner. It is important to note that this was a true story of what Wolf experienced when he was working in this office (Wolfe 67). The following are other elements of New Journalism presented in this text.
The need to serve as an independent power monitor
Those who are entrusted with power and responsibilities to take care of members of the society sometimes abuse this privilege. New Journalism seeks to find ways of monitoring how they use this power and report on the excesses of those responsible for the welfare of society. The Office of Economic Opportunities was assigned the responsibility of elevating conditions of the poor members of the society who had been marginalized since the country gained independence.
The officers were expected to interact with these people, understand their problems, and find solutions to the problems in a way that will make the marginalized groups be more responsible American citizens. However, Wolfe realized that the officers were doing the complete opposite thing. They harbored mistrust against the marginalized group and did everything possible to limit direct interaction with them. The finances meant for this program would be redirected to individuals’ bank accounts. As an independent power monitor, he reported this crime, hoping that a solution would be found.
Provision of a public criticism forum
According to Boynton (34), the need for a provision of a public forum where people can criticize issues affecting them is another important element of New Journalism. The reports should focus on cores issues affecting society in a way that can motivate public debate. In this text, Wolfe (45) says that the Office of Economic Opportunity claimed that the marginalized communities were waging a Mau Mau War against the Whites, making it difficult to give them help.
However, when volunteers went to the field, collect the ‘weapons’ used by the mau mauers, what he found were ice-picks, straight razors, and switch-blades. This demonstrates the hypocrisy of the officers. It is demonstrated that these marginalized communities had no capacity to wage any war with the government. This text was meant to promote public criticism of the activities of the officers. The book uses various literary devices in order to portray the indifference of this office towards the people it was created to protect.
Capote’s In Cold Blood and Tom Wolfe’s Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers are some of the texts, which have widely been used to when talking about New Journalism. As discussed in this paper, New Journalism emerged when a group of authors and journalists tried to use some literary devices to modify their work. The two books bring out specific elements of New Journalism that make it different from conventional journalism.
The first element is that New Journalism, just like conventional journalism, is based on true events. These events are reported in an artistic manner that may make the work to be mistaken to be fiction. Another element is that New Journalism seeks to address issues that affect members of the society in a way that will motivate public discussion. Public problems can only be solved through public consultations and participation. Finally, it is clear that this genre places emphasis on responsible journalism.
Boynton, Robert. The New Journalism: Conversations with America’s Best Nonfiction Writers on Their Craft. New York: Vintage Books, 2005. Print.
Capote, Truman. In Cold Blood: A True Account of a Multiple Murder and Its Consequences. New York, NY: Random House, 1975. Print.
Wolfe, Tom. Radical Chic &, Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers. New Jersey: Wiley & Sons, 2009. Print.