Gonzo Journalism

gonzo fist

Gonzo journalism is a style of journalism that is written subjectively, often including the reporter as part of the story via a first-person narrative. The word Gonzo was first used in 1970 to describe an article by Hunter S. Thompson, who later popularized the style. The term has since been applied to other subjective artistic endeavors.

Gonzo journalism tends to favor style over accuracy and often uses personal experiences and emotions to provide context for the topic or event being covered. It disregards the ‘polished’ edited product favored by newspaper media and strives for a more gritty approach. Use of quotations, sarcasm, humor, exaggeration, and profanity is common.

The term ‘Gonzo’ was first used in connection with Hunter S. Thompson in 1970 by Boston Globe magazine editor Bill Cardoso in describing Thompson’s ‘The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved.’ Cardoso claimed that ‘Gonzo’ was South Boston Irish slang describing the last man standing after an all-night drinking marathon. The 2007 oral biography of Thompson  states that the term is taken from a song by New Orleans rhythm and blues pianist James Booker, but with no explanation as to why.

Thompson based his style on William Faulkner’s idea that ‘fiction is often the best fact.’ While the things that Thompson wrote about are basically true, he used satirical devices to drive his points home. He often wrote about recreational drugs and alcohol use which added additional subjective flair to his reporting. Thompson would instigate events himself, often in a prankish or belligerent manner, and then document both his actions and those of others. Notoriously neglectful of deadlines, Thompson greatly annoyed his editors because he often faxed articles late, too late to be edited but just in time to make the printers.

In other contexts, Gonzo has come to mean ‘with reckless abandon,’ or, more broadly, ‘extreme.’ Gonzo porn refers to pornographic films which are filmed by a participant and, as such, have eliminated fictional plot and scripted dialogue and focus on the sex act.


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