In an interesting yet not surprising reaction to the passing of gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, he is being referred to as the original blogger. Clearly this is not meant to be taken literally, as the blogging phenomenon is relatively recent and Thompson didn’t keep a blog or even an official website. However, with more and more bloggers paying tribute to the man as one of their main inspirations and with the question “Are bloggers journalists?” being debated almost daily, this brings an intriguing debate front and center. In fact, the self-described “alternative news and underground culture destination” disinformation has a very interesting quote by Thompson in a piece dated March 4th, 2001:
“Gonzo journalism is a style of reporting based on William Faulkner’s idea that the best fiction is far more true than any kind of journalism – and the best journalists have always known this. Which is not to say that fiction is necessarily ‘more true’ than journalism – or vice versa – but that both ‘fiction’ and ‘journalism’ are artificial categories; and that both forms, at their best, are only two different means to the same end.” – Hunter S. Thompson
I have said from day one that it is silly, divisive and potentially dangerous to say anything as blanket as “bloggers are not journalists.” Sure, the guy writing about his dates or the woman putting pictures of her kids on vacation on her family’s web site can easily be qualified as “non-pros” in that they are not really writing for the masses and their reporting, if it can be called that, really has very little consequence beyond their immediate surroundings, friends, family, etc.
However, in the day of Internet spiders, RSS feeds and search engines that routinely scour the web for key phrases and words, if a blogger isn’t careful, his words are across the globe in the blink of an eye. For example, my little post about John Stewart was apparently picked up my a Japanese site with absolutely no effort on my part.
Merriam-Webster Online has a decent, yet incomplete definition of journalist: 1 a : a person engaged in journalism; especially : a writer or editor for a news medium b : a writer who aims at a mass audience. Now we’re getting somewhere. If the Internet isn’t a mass audience, I don’t know what is.
The we get to their definition of journalism.
1 a : the collection and editing of news for presentation through the media b : the public press c : an academic study concerned with the collection and editing of news or the management of a news medium
2 a : writing designed for publication in a newspaper or magazine b : writing characterized by a direct presentation of facts or description of events without an attempt at interpretation c : writing designed to appeal to current popular taste or public interest I’m willing to bet that, come the next edition of the dictionary, this definition will be changed to include “web publication” or even “blog.”
When I review a theatrical or DVD release or post an Op Ed piece about the latest Bush administration shenanigans, I am most certainly acting as a journalist. When I post a picture or two of Dick Cheney and imply that he might in fact want to consume your offspring, I suppose satirist might be a closer definition.
That said, if I treat even some of the posts I write as journalism and regard myself as a journalist, then I had better be ready for the world to treat me as such. Clearly, not all bloggers are journalists but the statement “bloggers aren’t journalists,” full stop, is simply a canard, one that I am sure Thompson would gladly blast with a 30 ought 6.
Photograph by Chris Buck
Interested in reading the immortal words of The God of Gonzo? Peruse this list, why don’t you?
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream
Fear & Loathing was my entry into Hunter’s work and still the yardstick by which all other drug and drink-fuled romps through the desert in a convertible with a Samoan attorney are measured. Pure genius.
Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail 72
Some call this the peak of Hunter’s relevance on a national stage and they might be right, in a broad sense. However, he continued to put out interesting, thought-provoking and downright genius work for the following 30+ years. to wit:
The Rum Diary
Written as a very young man in one of his first journalism gigs but published in 1999, The Rum Diary serves as Thompson’s answer to Hemmingway’s A Moveable Feast.
A Moveable Feast
Thompson’s book, as Hemmingway’s did decades before, paints a picture of life in each particular city as both romantic and tragic, as exciting and draining. What more could an adventurous young writer want?
Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga
Another critically acclaimed book, Hell’s Angels provided an inside look at a group most Americans had little or no understanding of.
Hey Rube: Blood Sport, the Bush Doctrine, and the Downward Spiral of Dumbness – Modern History from the Sports Desk
Thompson’s most recent book and one I am planning to read. According to Publisher’s Weekly, courtesy of Barnesandnoble.com, “This collection of rants and reflections, taken from the king of gonzo journalism’s new sports column at ESPN.com, displays an energy and humor lacking in some of his more recent collections and should please both his old and new fans enormously. Thompson has admitted being as much a sports fanatic as a political junkie, and these columns offer many hard-hitting but indisputable sportswriter insights, such as how a Sports Illustrated cover on Boston Red Sox star Nomar Garciaparra featured a “cynically homoerotic image.” A sidebar on “New Rules for Baseball” (“Eliminate the Pitcher”) is not only funny but also an astute critique of how boring he believes baseball has become. But Thompson never loses sight of his bigger picture: “The only true Blood Sport in this country is high-end Politics.” His view of George Bush-“a half-bright football coach who goes into a big game without a Game Plan”-can sometimes be repetitious. But he hasn’t lost his skill as a reporter: e.g., his description of the “exact moment” when he knew Gore would never win Florida-when the Bush family appeared on TV “hooting & sneering at the dumbness of the whole world” that they would let Florida slip away.”
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