I recently told my class to write a story about a new experience. This assignment was partly inspired by recent readings on Gonzo journalism, a style that was first associated with Hunter S. Thompson who popularized this style of journalism.
Thompson has inspired other writers. This style, which was often described as a “stream of consciousness” (more like writing from the hip), has sparked a new genre of journalism, but it has also earned some ire from traditional ones. This style is tough, especially after years of being told to follow a certain formula. This formula is simply called “5Ws1H” — no, that’s not a secret code that journalists only know.
We read the news today to answer these basic questions: what, who, when, where, why, and how. We want our news quick. Now that we have Twitter, we only read (admit it!) the headlines, and move on.
So back to the classroom. I currently teach J109, which is an elective that is described as writing for a popular audience. The shorter description will confuse you more, so I will spare you the details. But think about that short description: writing for a popular audience. Further reading of the course outline, I found out that I was tasked to help students write about technical topics/issues using techniques in journalism.
As journalists, we’re trained to be generalists. We are trained to absorb a lot of information. Then, we have to make sense of it. If we”re given a rock, we need to tell me what kind of rock it is, and where it came from, or where it has been. Perhaps, it’s a chip of a block in a landmark in our town hall. It might be a heavy piece of meteor rock that fell from the sky one chilly night. It’s heavy and it’s black. It might be a smooth slate we picked from a brook.
Yes, we need to master the basics. But that doesn’t stop you from exploring other styles of writing. Gonzo or whatever it may be. As long as you tell it like it is.