Is today’s news giving us ‘truth actual’?

The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby is the title of Tom Wolfe’s first collected book of essays, published in 1965. The book is named for one of the stories in the collection that was originally published in Esquire magazine in 1963 under the title “There Goes (Varoom! Varoom!) That Kandy-Kolored (Thphhhhhh!) Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby (Rahghhh!) Around the Bend (Brummmmmmmmmmmmmmm)…” Wolfe’s essay for Esquire and this, his first book, are frequently heralded as early examples of New Journalism. – Wikipedia

Those of us steeped in traditional journalism looked askance at the so-called “new journalism” of the 1960s. It was perpetrated (or lovingly brought into the world–depending on your feelings about it) by Tom Wolfe, Gay Talese and others who–while they had newspaper reporting experience–wrote their new stuff primarily for magazines like “Esquire” and “Atlantic”?

As you might guess from the title “There Goes (Varoom! Varoom!) That Kandy-Kolored (Thphhhhhh!) Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby (Rahghhh!) Around the Bend (Brummmmmmmmmmmmmmm)…”, it focused on the immersion of the reporter into the subject matter and often used techniques common to fiction when they wrote their stories.

Truth Actual

Fiction writers, especially those of us who write and/or like stream of consciousness, magical realism, fairy tales, myth-based fiction, and other forms that are often called “literary fiction,” often call the result of our stories “truth actual” instead of “truth literal.”

This view comes from the theory that the knowledge, feelings, impressions, and intuition within the reader’s mind after reading a “truth actual” novel will be more accurate than what results from reading straight realism. We might say that we’re speaking here of “more important” truths than “how to fix your dishwasher” or “how do I get from Yellow Knife to Key West.”

At any rate, the new journalism reporters thought that’s what they were doing and, I think, when they wrote longer, quasi-commentary, creative nonfiction magazine pieces, they succeeded. The technique works less well for front-page news.

Opinion Journalism

New journalism, however, seems to have spawned a black sheep. Some call it fake news. Basically, it’s the warping of a story to fit ones personal opinion and/or the political agenda of the publication. I don’t think this kind of “reporting” provides us with any real truth at all, and I see it practiced with equal fervor on Fox News, CNN, and The New York Times. In the old days, we would say this approach was pure arrogance, the notion being that the facts of the world don’t revolve like planets around the sun of your opinion about them.

This is new journalism gone too far and the flip side of what all of us were taught in journalism school and on our first jobs in the field.





2 thoughts on “Is today’s news giving us ‘truth actual’?

  1. Fake news isn’t new. It’s even debateable whether it is easier to spread fake news now with the help of soshul meeja than it was when news was hawked round the streets on broadsheets.

    I wonder if there was ever a period when news was collected and disseminated with probity? Perhaps.

    But we have certainly returned to a time when the populace’s only outlet for its frustrations is scurrilous stories about its rulers. And the rulers claim, as they always have, that this or that is slander or libel. Of course, a super injunction against such (London is apparently the world capital of super injunctions) is only available to the super-rich. Not, say, to someone like Jeremy Corbyn (for whom, I should add, I hold no brief, he’s just an example of someone currently being bombed with fake news who has rather little recourse).

  2. During the days of Yellow Journalism, readers saw a lot of fake news and/or opinion-oriented news. In journalism school, we were shown examples of old-time headlines and stories and were told, “We don’t do this anymore.” Journalism, as taught, has embraced objectivity. Yet the reporter is often captive of his/her view of the world. What a two-edged sword this is.

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