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IN THE THICK OF IT

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The NEW NEW JOURNALISM
By Robert S. Boynton
(Vintage, 496 pages)

You wouldn't think that the suicide of Hunter S. Thompson and the saga of a gay male prostitute being part of the White House press corps would have much to do with each other, but in coverage of both stories, the term "new journalism" was bandied about. In Thompson's case, it was apt: His first-person, stream-of-consciousness style became a defining element of "New Journalism," the late-'60s/early-'70s movement toward participating in events rather than merely observing them. The Jeff Gannon controversy, in which we find a story that's literally under the noses of the mainstream media being scooped by bloggers, has led to an entirely new discourse on the definition of modern journalism.

The New New Journalism splits the difference. Robert S. Boynton set out, via interviews with 19 "immersive journalists," to explain why traditional media is so consistently unrewarding and why, when writers take it upon themselves to both ferret out a story and get deeply involved in the action, the readers learn so much more. This "narrative nonfiction" (as some of its practitioners prefer to call it) has become the only way in this modern media landscape to get reportage on under-the-radar (or in-the-radar) subjects that's both engrossing and well-researched.

Neither overly reflective on the legacy of Thompson, Tom Wolfe and other first-generation "new journalists," nor overly critical of the sad state of affairs in contemporary newsrooms, Boynton leads his interview subjects into conversations about process and craft. Nonwriters might be put off by reading about William Langewiesche's fact-gathering methods, but Jon Krakauer's explanation of why it's morally defensible to pay interview subjects ("I grow impatient with smug, self-righteous reporters who refuse to consider the subjects' side of the argument") sweetens the deal.

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