Everyone wants to be Hunter S. Thompson. At least, that ‘s the way I feel (probably because I want to be him too.) Realistically, I don’t think that it is possible to recreate what he did. The drug-fuelled romp of the ’60s is over, and now journalism demands constant professionalism, attentiveness, and reliability. People can’t find the time in their day to read long-form stories anymore, let alone book-length features. The crazed version of gonzo journalism that he pioneered- one that favoured DIY methods, and a ‘method acting’ type of writing in which the journalist is a part of the story- while perhaps still prevalent in our society (look at the success of Vice) is mostly dead. Drugs, sex, and rock n’ roll are no longer shocking or thrilling. Instead, they’re an accepted- even encouraged- part of society.
So what can a journalist do now? How can we bring about the same fresh and exciting methods that Thompson, breaking free from the academic constraints of APA formatting and inverted-pyramid style hard news in your municipal newspaper, did?
He took risks, and I suppose that is what we have to do now. Journalists have to tell stories that no one else is talking about, and not be afraid to cast off the professional facade we are expected to adopt. There is something to be said for inserting not only you but your persona into the work you do. Write so that the journalism is still valid, but make it a reflection of your personality. Do something that no one else is doing. I feel like because the news cycle is so quick, journalists no longer have the chance to get lost in, or truly explore a story. Although it is important to have a structure to your life: to plan, budget, pay the bills, and cover the local hockey scores, there is still room for what I believe journalism is. Journalism is about telling someone else’s stories, it is about experiencing life through another lens. How can we truly capture life at its core, the messy disaster that we all experience, when we are approaching these events in a cold academic manner?
Then I suppose that one of the key issues is treating journalism like a job and nothing more. When in reality, people want to read about the stories of others, to know what is truly happening around the world and in their own backyards. There will always be a place for hard news; the importance that we all are aware of what is happening is universal. Especially if the events are life- or society-threatening. Journalists just can’t forget to make time to experience life away from the office, the page, and the professional constraints. Public trust in journalism is worryingly low right now. Perhaps it would help to infuse some truthful, unpolished glimpses of life every now and then.
Take a risk.