Gonzo journalism is a form of reporting that never claims to offer objectivity. People who write in this area often use first-person narratives and opinions as a way to convey information to others. Hunter S. Thompson was the first to popularize this style, being the protagonist in the report while providing self-satire and social critique.
The goal of gonzo journalism is to offer a detached style using quotes and facts to relay data without the verification of third-party sources. Instead of using a strictly-edited report that sees multiple people making changes to it, Thompson used this method to create a personal approach. It is not uncommon to use exaggeration and profanity in a piece as a way to drive home a critical point.
Interestingly enough, it was a critique of Thompson’s work that led to this term. Editor Bill Cardoso of The Boston Globe called one of Hunter S. Thompson pieces about the Kentucky Derby as “pure gonzo journalism,” using the reference to describe the last man standing after drinking all night long.
Fiction is the Best Fact in Gonzo Journalism
Thompson always believed that journalistic objectivity was a myth. Everyone has a preference for specific stories or how to frame them. Instead of pretending that this perspective didn’t exist, he decided to embrace it with his writing style. It was a notion once made popular by William Faulkner, another writer who believed that fiction created the best facts.
Although Thompson’s iconic work Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is seen as one of the best examples of gonzo journalism, he always thought of the work as a failure. Thompson wanted it to be an unedited work of his efforts, but it ended up going through five different revisions before going to publication.
Even when Thompson wrote columns and articles for local papers, he refused to go through the standardized editing process. He purposely submitted items late so that they couldn’t be edited before going to the printer.
The outcome of this work became the foundation of the webzine culture that developed in the late 1990s. One could even say that the “fake news” propagated on social media is derived from Thompson’s approach.
“Objective journalism is one of the main reasons American politics has been allowed to be so corrupt for so long,” Thompson once observed. He didn’t get any satisfaction from that view. His thought was that a writer should put themselves into each piece – so that’s what he did.