Tom Wolfe Essay New Journalism Articles

From the February 14, 1972 issue of New York Magazine.

I. The Feature Game

I doubt if many of the aces I will be extolling in this story went into journalism with the faintest notion of creating a "new" journalism, a "higher" journalism, or even a mildly improved variety. I know they never dreamed that anything they were going to write for newspapers or magazines would wreak such evil havoc in the literary world . . . causing panic, dethroning the novel as the number one literary genre, starting the first new direction in American literature in half a century . . . Nevertheless, that is what has happened. Bellow, Barth, Updike—even the best of the lot, Philip Roth—the novelists are all out there ransacking the literary histories and sweating it out, wondering where they now stand. Damn it all, Saul, the Huns have arrived. . .

God knows I didn't have anything new in mind, much less anything literary, when I took my first newspaper job. I had a fierce and unnatural craving for something else entirely. Chicago, 1928, that was the general idea . . . Drunken reporters out on the ledge of the News peeing into the Chicago River at dawn . . . Nights down at the saloon listening to "Back of the Stockyards" being sung by a baritone who was only a lonely blind bulldyke with lumps of milk glass for eyes . . . Nights down at the detective bureau—it was always nighttime in my daydreams of the newspaper life. Reporters didn't work during the day. I wanted the whole movie, nothing left out . . .

I was aware of what had reduced me to this Student Prince Maudlin state of mind. All the same, I couldn't help it. I had just spent five years in graduate school, a statement that may mean nothing to people who never served such a stretch; it is the explanation, nonetheless. I'm not sure I can give you the remotest idea of what graduate school is like. Nobody ever has. Millions of Americans now go to graduate schools, but just say the phrase—"graduate school"—and what picture leaps into the brain? No picture, not even a blur. Half the people I knew in graduate school were going to write a novel about it. I thought about it myself. No one ever wrote such a book, as far as I know. Everyone used to sniff the air. How morbid! How poisonous! Nothing else like it in the world! But the subject always defeated them. It defied literary exploitation. Such a novel would be a study of frustration, but a form of frustration so exquisite, so ineffable, nobody could describe it. Try to imagine the worst part of the worst Antonioni movie you ever saw, or reading Mr. Sammler's Planet at one sitting, or just reading it, or being locked inside a Seaboard Railroad roomette, sixteen miles from Gainesville, Florida, heading north on the Miami-to-New York run, with no water and the radiator turning red in an amok psychotic over boil, and George McGovern sitting beside you telling you his philosophy of government. That will give you the general atmosphere.

In any case, by the time I received my doctorate in American studies in 1957 I was in the twisted grip of a disease of our times in which the sufferer experiences an overwhelming urge to join the "real world." So I started working for newspapers. In 1962, after a cup of coffee here and there, I arrived at the New York Herald Tribune . . This must be the place! . . . I looked out across the city room of the Herald Tribune, 100 moldering yards south of Times Square, with a feeling of amazed bohemian bliss . . . Either this is the real world, Tom, or there is no real world . . . The place looked like the receiving bin at the Good Will . . . a promiscuous heap of junk . . . Wreckage and exhaustion everywhere . . . If somebody such as the city editor had a swivel chair, the universal joint would be broken, so that every time he got up, the seat would keel over as if stricken by a lateral stroke. All the intestines of the building were left showing in diverticulitic loops and lines—electrical conduits, water pipes, steam pipes, effluvium ducts, sprinkler systems, all of it dangling and grunting from the ceiling, the walls, the columns. The whole mess, from top to bottom, was painted over in an industrial sludge, Lead Gray, Subway Green, or that unbelievable dead red, that grim distemper of pigment and filth, that they paint the floor with in the tool and die works. On the ceiling were scalding banks of fluorescent lights, turning the atmosphere radium blue and burning bald spots in the crowns of the copy readers, who never moved. It was one big pie factory . . . A Landlord's Dream . . . There were no interior walls. The corporate hierarchy was not marked off into office spaces. The managing editor worked in a space that was as miserable and scabid as the lowest reporter's. Most newspapers were like that. This setup was instituted decades ago for practical reasons. But it was kept alive by a curious fact. On newspapers very few editorial employees at the bottom—namely, the reporters—had any ambition whatsoever to move up, to become city editors, managing editors, editors-in-chief, or any of the rest of it. Editors felt no threat from below. They needed no walls. Reporters didn't want much . . . merely to be stars! and of such minute wattage at that!

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    • Archive: “Features”
    • Articles by Tom Wolfe
    • From the Feb 14, 1972 issue of New York

    The New Journalism is a 1973 anthology of journalism edited by Tom Wolfe and E. W. Johnson. The book is both a manifesto for a new type of journalism by Wolfe, and a collection of examples of New Journalism by American writers, covering a variety of subjects from the frivolous (baton twirling competitions) to the deadly serious (the Vietnam War). The pieces are notable because they do not conform to the standard dispassionate and even-handed model of journalism. Rather they incorporate literary devices usually only found in fictional works.


    The first section of the book consists of four previously published texts by Wolfe: The Feature Game and Like a Novel (published as The Birth of “The New Journalism”: An Eyewitness Report and The New Journalism: A la Recherche des Whichy Thickets, in the New York Magazine, on February 14 and February 21, 1972); Seizing the Power and Appendix (published as Why They Aren't Writing the Great American Novel Anymore, in Esquire, December 1972).

    The text is a diatribe against the American novel which Wolfe sees as having hit a dead end by moving away from realism, and his opinion that journalism is much more relevant. In effect, his manifesto is for mixing journalism with literary techniques to document in a more effective way than the novel. These techniques were most likely inspired by writers of social realism, such as Émile Zola and Charles Dickens. His manifesto for New Journalism (although he had no great affection for the term) has four main points.

    • Scene by scene construction. Rather than rely on second-hand accounts and background information, Wolfe considers it necessary for the journalist to witness events first hand, and to recreate them for the reader.
    • Dialogue. By recording dialogue as fully as possible, the journalist is not only reporting words, but defining and establishing character, as well as involving the reader.
    • The third person. Instead of simply reporting the facts, the journalist has to give the reader a real feeling of the events and people involved. One technique for achieving this is to treat the protagonists like characters in a novel. What is their motivation? What are they thinking?
    • Status details. Just as important as the characters and the events, are the surroundings, specifically what people surround themselves with. Wolfe describes these items as the tools for a "social autopsy", so we can see people as they see themselves.


    Part two, which makes of the major part of The New Journalism, consists of twenty-four texts, collected by Wolfe and Johnson. Every text features a short introduction, written by Wolfe.


    Truman Capote, In Cold Blood[edit]

    The excerpt from In Cold Blood, is the fifth text in the anthology. The excerpt is taken from the third chapter titled Answers. In Cold Blood was initially, published as a four-part serial in The New Yorker, beginning with the September 25, 1965 issue. Answers, which was the third part, was published in the October 25 issue. The book details the brutal 1959 murders of Herbert Clutter, a wealthy farmer from Holcomb, Kansas, and his wife and two of their children. When Capote learned of the quadruple murder before the killers were captured, he decided to travel to Kansas and write about the crime. Bringing his childhood friend and fellow author Harper Lee along, together they interviewed local residents and investigators assigned to the case and took thousands of pages of notes. The killers, Richard "Dick" Hickock and Perry Smith, were arrested not long after the murders, and Capote ultimately spent six years working on the book. It is considered the originator of the non-fiction novel and the forerunner of the New Journalism movement, although other writers, like Rodolfo Walsh, had already explored the genre in books like Operación Masacre.

    In the introduction Wolfe writes “For all his attention to novelistic technique, however, Capote does not use point of view in as sophisticated way as he does in fiction. One seldom feels that he is really inside of the minds of the characters. One gets a curious blend of third-person point of view and omniscient narration. Capote probably had sufficient information to use point of view in a more complex fashion but was not yet ready to let himself go in nonfiction.”

    Robert Christgau, Beth Ann and Macrobioticism[edit]

    Beth Ann and Macrobioticism, by Robert Christgau, is the 20th text in the anthology. It was Christgau's first magazine article[1] In 1965 Christgau was a reporter for the Dorf Feature Service in Newark, NJ.

    TitleAuthorFirst PublishedMagazine/Newspaper First Published inBook Published in
    In Cold Blood !Excerpt from In Cold BloodCapote, Truman !Truman Capote000000001965-09-25-0000September 25, 1965The New YorkerIn Cold Blood
    Beth Ann and MacrobioticismChristgau, Robert !Robert Christgau000000001965-01-01-00001965New York Herald Tribunezzz !-
    Some Dreamers of the Golden DreamDidion, Joan !Joan Didion000000001966-05-07-0000May 7, 1966The Saturday Evening PostSlouching Towards Bethlehem
    That's What We Come to Minneapolis For,’ Stan Hough said !‘That's What We Come to Minneapolis For,’ Stan Hough saidDunne, John Gregory !John Gregory Dunne000000001969-01-01-00001969zzz !-Studio !The Studio
    Charlie Simpson's ApocalypseEszterhas, Joe !Joe Eszterhas000000001972-07-06-0000July 6, 1972Rolling Stonezzz !-
    La Dolce VivaGoldsmith, Barbara !Barbara Goldsmith000000001968-04-29-0000April 29, 1968New York Magazinezzz !-
    GearGoldstein, Richard !Richard Goldstein000000001969-01-01-00001969The Village Voicezzz !-
    KhesanhHerr, Michael !Michael Herr000000001965-09-01-0000September 1965[2]Esquire[2]zzz !-
    Armies of the Night !Excerpt from The Armies of the NightMailer, Norman !Norman Mailer000000001968-01-01-00001968zzz !-Armies of the Night !The Armies of the Night
    Selling of the President !Excerpt from The Selling of the President 1968McGinniss, Joe !Joe McGinniss000000001969-01-01-00001969zzz !-Selling of the President !The Selling of the President 1968
    Detective !The DetectiveMills, James !James Mills000000001965-12-03-0000December 3, 1965[2]LIFE[2]zzz !-
    Paper lion !Excerpt from Paper LionPlimpton, George !George Plimpton000000001966-01-01-00001966zzz !-Paper Lion
    Ava: Life in the AfternoonReed, Red !Rex Reed000000001967-05-01-0000May 1967[3]Esquire'Do You Sleep in the Nude?
    Timing and a Diversion: The Cocoa GameSmith, Adam !"Adam Smith"(pen name for George Goodman)New York World Journal TribuneMoney Game !The Money Game
    M !Excerpt from MSack, John !John Sack000000001966-10-01-0000October 1966[4]Esquire[4]M
    Twirling at Ole MissSouthern, Terry !Terry Southern000000001963-02-01-0000February 1963[5]Esquire[5]Red-Dirt Marijuana and Other Tastes
    Soft Psyche of Joshua Logan !The Soft Psyche of Joshua LoganTalese, Gay !Gay Talese000000001963-04-01-0000April 1963[6]Esquire[6]zzz !-
    Hell's Angels !Excerpt from Hell's AngelsThompson, Hunter S. !Hunter S. Thompson000000001966-01-01-00001966zzz !-Hell's Angels
    Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved !The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and DepravedThompson, Hunter S. !Hunter S. Thompson000000001970-06-01-0000June 1970Scanlan's Monthlyzzz !-
    The General Goes Zapping Charlie Cong !The General Goes Zapping Charlie CongTomalin, Nicholas !Nicholas Tomalin000000001966-06-05-0000June 5, 1966[2]The Times[2]zzz !-
    Martin Luther King is Still on the Casewills, Garry !Garry Wills000000001968-08-01-0000August 1968[2]Esquire[2]zzz !-
    Fugitive !The FugitiveWolfe, Tom !Tom Wolfe000000001968-01-01-00001968zzz !-Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test !The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test
    Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak CatchersWolfe, Tom !Tom Wolfe000000001970-06-08-0000June 8, 1970[2]New York Magazine[2]zzz !-


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    Primary sources[edit]

    • Murphy, James E. (May 1974). Westley, Bruce H., ed. "The New Journalism: A Critical Perspective". Journalism Monographs. The Association for Education in Journalism. 34. 
    • Weingarten, Marc (2006). The Gang That Wouldn't Write Straight: Wolfe, Thompson, Didion, and the New Journalism Revolution. Crown Publishers. ISBN 1-4000-4914-8. 
    • Wolfe, Tom; Johnson, E. W. (1973). The New Journalism. Harper & Row. ISBN 0-06-014707-5. 

    Contemporary reviews[edit]

    The New Journalism

    Texts in the anthology

    Secondary sources[edit]

    • Capote, Truman (1966). In Cold Blood. Vintage. ISBN 0-679-74558-0. 
    • Truman, Capote (October 9, 1965). "Annals of Crime: In Cold Blood: III Answers". The New Yorker. pp. 58–183. 
    • Cartwright, Garth (May 12, 2001). "Master of the Rock Review". The Guardian. Guardian Media Group. 
    • Didion, Joan (May 7, 1966). "Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream". The Saturday Evening Post. 
    • Dunne, John Gregory (1969). The Studio. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 0-374-27112-7. 
    • McQuade, Donald, ed. (1974). Popular Writing in America: The Interaction of Style and Audience. Oxford University Press. 
    • Plimpton, George (September 7, 1964). "Zero of the Lions". Sports Illustrated. Time Warner. 
    • Russello, Gerald J. (November 21, 2005). "How New Journalism Became Old News". The New York Sun. ONE SL LLC. 
    • Sack, John (October 1966). "M". Esquire. Hearst Corporation. 
    • Schuster, Mel, ed. (1971). Motion Picture Performers: A Bibliography of Magazine and Periodical Articles, 1900-1969. Scarecrow Press. ISBN 0-8108-0407-7. 
    • Tate, Ryan (December 9, 2008). "The Nude Photos That Nearly Destroyed New York". Gawker Media. 
    • Thompson, Hunter S. (May 17, 1965). "The Motorcycle Gangs, Losers and Outsiders". The Nation. Katrina vanden Heuvel. 
    • Tomalin, Nicholas (June 5, 1966). "The General Goes Zapping Charlie Cong". The Times. News Corporation. 
    • Wolfe, Tom (July 14, 2008). "A City Built of Clay". New York Magazine. New York Media LLC. 
    • Wolfe, Tom (February 14, 1972). "The Birth of 'The New Journalism'; Eyewitness Report by Tom Wolfe". New York Magazine. New York Media LLC. p. 44. 
    • Wolfe, Tom (February 21, 1972). "The New Journalism: A la Recherche des Whichy Thickets". New York Magazine. New York Media LLC. p. 152. 
    • Wolfe, Tom (December 1972). "Why They Aren't Writing the Great American Novel Anymore". Esquire. Hearst Corporation. 
    • "The 7 Greatest Stories in the History of Esquire Magazine". Esquire. Hearst Corporation. November 30, 2009. Retrieved December 31, 2009. 
    1. ^Wolfe & Johnson, 1973, p. 363.
    2. ^ abcdefghijWolfe & Johnson, 1973, Acknowledgments.
    3. ^Schuster 1974, p. 265.
    4. ^ abEsquire Magazine. November 30, 2009.
    5. ^ abMcQuade 1974, p. 290.
    6. ^ abWeingarten 2006, p. 298.

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