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.
Does anyone get up on time?
What he does on a Saturday evening.
What does he do on a Saturday? He wakes up, late for you, but normal for him. He never gets up on time. His first two thoughts come to him immediately: he pulls on socks to avoid walking on the ground and goes to tend the mushroom he found growing out of the crack that runs the length of his room, and probably the foundation too.
He isn’t good at waiting, so he will always be the first person to arrive, and the last to leave (as cliché as it is.) He wanders to venue to venue, the sun having set long ago, but only just after he got up, chain-smoking cigarettes that he put on his credit card. Free money, for now.
He does not use social media, on purpose. His conscience cannot handle that. He knows that anyone- even someone who completely detests the new false realities that rule our attention spans- can slip deeply into the world of code, backlit screens, and manufactured realities. He spends him time drinking, with his friends and his flip phone, at a bar that doesn’t even take card, without a slot machine, digital screen, or wifi, and afterwards, when comes in from the cold, he tends to his blossoming mushroom.