The New Gonzo Journalism

By Graham Phillips

Working in Donbass, I had the chance to see traditional  journalism in action. Or rather, far away from the action, calling me to ask what the action was.

I used to try to help Daniel Sandford of the BBC, as here, on the phone, from Slavyansk –

However, I soon realised, it made no difference. Daniel already had his news, sitting rewriting press releases with much of the other western press pack in an air-conditioned hotel bar.

Old-school journalism clearly wasn’t the answer in covering the Donbass situation, it was the opposition. The nature of the conflict there, events flaring up everywhere, entirely unpredictably, technology, a multi-platform media making it possible for a citizen to turn into a citizen journalist at the upload of a clip to YouTube. Blogs often quicker, sharper than established news portals.

For journalists, it presented true opportunity to adapt, embrace the demands of covering the highly volatile situation in Donbass using new techniques. Best suited, an adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s famous Gonzo journalism, invented in the 70s.

Gonzo1As for the original Gonzo (pictured here) – defined as journalism  ‘without claims of objectivity, often including the reporter as part of the story via a first-person narrative…. an energetic first-person participatory writing style in which the author is a protagonist, and it draws its power from a combination of both social critique and self-satire’.

To make Gonzo suitable for mass media, of course the correspondent needs to be objective. Yet the journalist getting right involved in the mix was something we saw in Donass, although sadly from very few western correspondents. Instead, its exponents were Russian journalists. Here, Semen Pegov of Life News, noted for always throwing himself into the hottest spots, getting totally involved in the action –

More on Gonzo –

Gonzo journalism involves an approach to accuracy through the reporting of personal experiences and emotions, as compared to traditional journalism, which favors a detached style and relies on facts or quotations that can be verified by third parties.

Clearly, this method needs to be adapted to be compatible with the standards of broadcast media. The ‘New Gonzo’ can invest personal experiences and emotions into reporting, but it also needs to show facts, speak to people at the scene. This, my own piece, recorded for the Zvezda news channel, with Debaltsevo – sharing of emotion, personal experience, but also facts, interviews from the scene –

More on the original Gonzo –

Gonzo journalism disregards the strictly edited product favored by newspaper media and strives for a more personal approach; the personality of a piece is as important as the event the piece is on. Use of sarcasm, humor, exaggeration, and profanity is common.

Twitter has given metier to this form of Gonzo, sarcasm, joking generally tools of any modern journalist, not just the ‘New Gonzo’ exponents. Which shows just how much the original Gonzo precepts have influenced conventional journalism.

As for what marks out a true ‘New Gonzo’ journalist, coming next…. The ‘New Gonzo’ is here –

Join the Facebook group here!

One thought on “The New Gonzo Journalism”

  1. All very true but couldn’t you have invested in a decent Savile Row suit and tie before appearing in all these vids.
    Hopefully you’ll have that sorted for when you report on the tanks closing in at the final battle of Westminster anyway.


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