What is Gonzo Journalism?

What is Gonzo Journalism

Objectivity in journalism has been one of the guiding principles for journalists since many years, and till well into the later half of the twentieth century, it was considered to be the lodestar of professional journalism.

It was only in the 1970s that a new style of journalism emerged- one without claims of objectivity, and narrated from the view point of the journalist. This breakthrough form was called Gonzo Journalism.

Prior to this, the role of the reporter was supposed to be of a third-person, a fly on the wall, who reports hard facts as he sees. His own value judgments, opinions and comments found no place in the works that he produced.

The word “gonzo” was first used to describe an article by Hunter Thompson, who was a pioneer of the new style and helped popularise it. Thompson’s descriptive essay titled “The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved”, which was written in June 1970 was called as “pure gonzo journalism”. His book called Loathing in Las Vegas was another exemplary example of Gonzo.

Thompson believed that journalistic objectivity was a myth, and therefore Gonzo Journalism told things the way they were. This new, bona-fide style of writing was inspired by the New Journalism wave of 1960s.

Many proponents of the traditional style of journalist criticised Gonzo for introducing elements of fiction into what was a non-fictionalised, detached and fact-based style of writing, heavily dependant on quotations. It often made news reports seem like novels.

Contrary to the conventional style of writing, this form was extremely subjective and often bold and exaggerated.

The sources for Gonzo writing are abound- notes, snatches from other articles, interviews, tapes, telephonic conversations can all be elements of it. But the defining feature of Gonzo is the focus on the journalist and his first hand narrative.

This might pose as a challenge, because the journalist has to be both a participant and a vigilant reporter. According to Thompson, the writer must be an active participant in the scene while he’s writing about it, or capturing it.

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