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5.0 out of 5 stars
A classic anthology of the writers that redefined journalism, 4 Sept. 2001
First published in 1975, The New Journalism is considered the definitive anthology of Vietnam era journalism. The writers featured, which included such names as Norman Mailer, Truman Capote and Hunter S Thompson, represent a style that was as contrary to the existing codes in practise at the time as rock and roll was to society at large. These are tales of burnt draft cards, pop art, free love and drug runs to Mexico. Most importantly they're generally told in either the first person, purely vicarious accounts for the reader to immerse themselves in, or as short stories that read as fluently as any fiction. This journalism is the very antithesis of the classic news reporting methodologies (who, what, where, when, why) taught in textbooks such as David Randall's Universal Journalist. As the back cover spiel says: 'The hell with it... let chaos reign... louder music, more wine... All the old traditions are exhausted and no new one is yet established. All bets are off! The odds are cancelled! It's anybody's ballgame...'
Some of the highlights include Michael Herr's account of the 26th Marines posted at Khesanh airbase in Vietnam. Eschewing traditional encounter and conflict based reporting Herr focuses on the minds and spirits of the young men trapped in a frighteningly real situation, which to the modern reader evokes Full Metal Jacket's Private Joker reporting from Heller's Catch-22. The marines desperate to go home but too scared to venture out on the landing strip to catch their transports as the place is constantly shelled by the North Vietnamese... The young grunt who writes bravura messages on his flak jacket only to scrub them out when he realises everyone other soldier has the same slogan.
Hunter S. Thompson does what Hunter S. Thompson is supposed to do and gets himself into trouble. Drunk as hell at Kentucky Derby or riding with the Hells Angels, what is ostensibly the subject of the piece becomes inevitably a series of opportunities for the excesses of gonzo journalism. These early short pieces are easier to digest than Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas or Better than Sex for example, and are a great introduction to this writer's work.
Joe Eszterhaus's account of hippie rebellion and ultimately tragedy in small town America is another standout piece. Demonstrating both 'straight' third person reportage and then an in-depth account of the reporter's encounters with hippies, squares and 'the man' it's a remarkable vignette depicting a fascinating period in American history.
There are too many excellent articles to detail here, from George Plimpton's apprenticeship with the Detroit Lions to James Mills walking the beat with the toughest cop in all of New York City. This is real blood and guts stuff, raw and visceral. With an exhaustive introduction covering the evolution and principles of the New Journalism this is an essential purchase for both students of journalism and anyone interested in sixties Americana.