New Journalism is a term that refers to the phenomenon that took place in the 1970s. It can be defined as “a radical new way to describe the times” in which people live (Goc 279). It was a revolutionary approach to journalism as new forms and styles were used. Truman Capote and Gay Talese contributed greatly to the development of New Journalism. These two journalists opened up new horizons in journalism, and many reporters are still using methods developed in the 1970s. It is possible to consider elements of New Journalism in Talese’s “Where’s the Spirit of Selma Now” and Capote’s In Cold Blood to understand how this approach differs from traditional journalism.
Wolfe is one of the major theorists of New Journalism (Goc 279). He revealed the distinctive features of this approach. One of these features is the presence of points of view of many people (Goc 280). In traditional journalism, a limited number of viewpoints are usually given.
The writer’s opinion can also be found. Of course, in both works, this element of New Journalism is present. Capote provides viewpoints of many inhabitants of the area where the crime took place. Voices of witnesses, police officers, and even murderers can be heard in the book. Even though “the whole world was against Dick Hickock”, the author provides the opinion of the cruel murderer (Capote 167). Clearly, this was a revolutionary technique, as in the majority of cases, criminals did not get so much attention.
Talese also uses this element as he gives opinions of mainstream America, those living in the North and those living in the city depicted in the article. It becomes clear that the issue is not that simple, and rallies or marches can have some positive and many negative effects. The author provides the words of one of the inhabitants of Salem who notes that it is “easy for outsiders to come and march here…, but when they leave, they leave us the pieces” (qtd. in Talese par. 19).
Opinions of different people are included and it is obvious that the problem is complex and marches organized by people coming from different cities to Salem are not effective and bring more issues instead of solutions.
Another element of New Journalism that is also present in both works is the use of “scene-by-scene construction with a spare back story” (Goc 280). For example, in Capote’s book, each chapter is a scene devoted to a specific topic or idea. The author also gives various facts form the past of the characters. Talese makes us of this element as well. The journalist describes events that took place in Salem during the Civil Rights Movement.
The author also gives a back-story when he tells the story about “another man named King” who “set a style of life that was soon emulated by other early settlers” (Talese par. 7-10). This helps the reader understand the atmosphere in the city.
Of course, these elements were not used in traditional journalism as journalists focused on an event and simply told the story as it went. There can be back-stories in traditional journalistic pieces but they are very short (a few sentences). Talese and Capote give many details that refer to the past and the present of places they are writing about.
One more element that is typical of New Journalism is the length of the work. Authors who use techniques of New Journalism could write papers of any lengths. The two pieces under analysis are two extremes. Talese’s article is quite short for a piece of New Journalism while Capote’s writing is very long. It is hard to call Capote’s book a pure journalistic work as it is a novel. As for traditional journalism, there are quite strict limits and journalists have only particular number of words to tell their stories. Capote and Talese break these rules and use as many words as they need.
The use of dialogue is also important in New Journalism (Goc 280). This element is used differently in the two works. Capote’s book is full of dialogues. They make the story easy to follow. Talese does not use dialogues but the author provides many quotes that create a sense of a dialogue with the reader. In traditional journalism, no dialogues are used. There can be some quotes but their number is also quite limited.
Another element of New Journalism, which is also one of major elements of fiction, is the use of characterization. In Capote’s book, this element is used more distinctly. The author provides descriptions of many people involved in the case. Capote tells back-stories of each character and these characters are often dynamic. Talese also uses characterization. However, it is often a characterization of the population of the city, not an individual. Of course, the city and different groups living there are also dynamic characters as they develop and change.
It is also obvious that New Journalism is different from the traditional one as ‘new journalists’ insert a lot of fiction into their works. Traditional journalist use facts only and they do not pay much attention to the literary value of the piece. New journalists try to create a literary work that is based on pure facts. There can be some literary devices in the piece and authors can also add more descriptions and more details to make the work more interesting.
Hence, it is clear that the two works are examples of New Journalism. They both can be defined as a “fact-based writing that combines the story elements of fiction with the truth-telling elements of traditional journalism” (Goc 281). Nevertheless, it is important to remember that New Journalism is not a ‘pure fiction’. In pure fiction, authors do not bother about facts very much. However, both works under analysis are based on facts only.
Capote tells about a crime that happened in a certain place. Talese also describes events that happened in a famous city. The two authors tell about people who lived there at certain periods. Moreover, the authors provide quotes and it is clear that those are words of the people involved in the situations that happened. The authors had interviews to collect data and based their writing on this information. This is one of the major differences between New Journalism and ‘pure fiction’.
As has been mentioned above, New Journalism was developed to tell about the life in a new way. The authors did not want to provide only facts but they did not want to create purely fictional writings, which are not associated with truth. They found the way to combine journalism and fiction. Capote and Talese used elements of New Journalism to describe the way people lived at certain periods. They focused on a specific event and managed to show the way people behaved and the way people thought.
Of course, it is possible to write a report on an event and people will learn about it. It will start a debate on some issues. However, a novel devoted to a crime and the wrongs of the American society will have a greater impact. Notably, the book under analysis had an enormous effect on Americans who started discussing two sides of the American Dream. People saw lives of ordinary Americans and they also saw the life of people who could kill. The book helped the reader see the way criminals think.
Talese also chose only one event, the march in Salem. However, he managed to start a debate on the role of these marches and the effects they created in specific places. The author makes people think about the other side of activism. Those coming to different cities advocating certain principles can understand that they come and leave but people are left with their problems. Sometimes the problems become even more serious and even dangerous as the marches reveal the tension that could be hidden for decades.
On balance, it is clear that New Journalism was a revolutionary technique used to make people think about major issues that existed in the society. Journalists were not satisfied with the limits of traditional journalism and they started using elements of fiction in their works. They managed to tell the reader about some events but, at the same time, they drew people’s attention to trends that led to appearance of certain issues.
Capote, Truman. In Cold Blood. New York: Vintage, 1994. Print.
Goc, Nicola. “Case Study 4: What’s in a name? New Journalism and Creative Nonfiction.” Media and Journalism: New Approaches to Theory and Practice. Eds. Jason Bainbridge, Nicolá Goc, Elizabeth Tynan and Liz Tynan. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. 279-287. Print.
Talese, Gay. “From the Archives: Where’s the Spirit of Selma Now?” The New York Times. 2015. Web.