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Seeing the 'story'

Blur image of crowd in bright sunlight.
Blur image of crowd in bright sunlight.
Photo/Image courtesy of James Tye Title/Font design created by B. L. Cassidy

Literary journalism is the writer observing, recording, and shaping the moments from everyday situations and events. It is also known as creative non-fiction. It uses literary styles and techniques to create factually accurate narratives, and provide meaning from a scene.

A few days later, almost in desperation, I was staring at a notepad in a telephone booth in a midtown athletic club, fussing with a slew of words in my mind as I was waiting for a call, when almost as if by divine guidance I saw my pencil form the words Paper Lion on the paper. Catchy, simple, with all the proper allusions,"paper tiger" and so forth, it seemed absolutely on button.

George Plimpton, former founder and editor of The Paris Review, columnist for Sports Illustrated, and novelist, writes this, as he weighs and considers the title to his literary, narrative novel, of his participative journalism, on being allowed to join the training camp of the Detroit Lions, in 1963. Plimpton later in the introduction of the novel, writes,

But Paper Lion caught on. It was published at just the right time, the interest in professional football being on a considerable upswing. So was the popularity of personalized journalism, or what Tom Wolfe called "new journalism."

Literary journalism is still journalism. The difference is in how the writer writes about the topic. All information, facts, must still be true.

Columnist, Jimmy Breslin, elevated the measure for literary journalism when writing two longform articles on the death of President John F. Kennedy. His columns for the New York Herald Tribune became classics, because he chose to write on the human compassion in the stories. “A Death in Emergency Room One”, chronicles Nov. 22, 1963, from the attending emergency-room surgeon in Dallas. “It’s an Honor”, covered the president’s burial from the perspective of the gravedigger at Arlington National Cemetery.

According to literary author, Barrie Jean Borich, "Creative non-fiction writing can embody both personal and public history. It is a form that utilizes memory, experience, observation, opinion, and all kinds of research. Sometimes the form can do all of the above at the same time. Other times it is more selective."

"Journalism remains a way of practicing skepticism and self-questioning to tell stories grounded in the world we share. This doesn’t necessarily mean that stories don’t have a point-of-view, but if they do, it comes after the journalist views the facts with scrutiny and empathy. Even small details matter: journalists must be honest about what they see and don’t see. Anything less exhibits a lack of respect for the places and people whose stories they tell, and who they tell them to. We need both art and journalism to change the world, and we need to know which is which", states Anna Clark, editor of the literary website, Isak.

Literary journalism or creative non-fiction can also be seen in author and columnist, Mitch Albom's longform article titled, "Why the Beatles are Still the Best", in which he talks about the 50th anniversary of the Beatles' first appearance on the "Ed Sullivan Show", and why they are worth commemorating. He narrates,

...what the Beatles did was take their influences-Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, Elvis-and morph them all into their own early sound. Songs like "From Me to You" and "Can't Buy Me Love" were bright, tight and catchy rock 'n' roll, but they were wholly different from other songs coming out. When mimic bands began popping up, the Beatles quickly moved into more significant and signature work, songs you really couldn't imagine anyone else doing.

Good literary journalism or creative non-fiction recreates the drama of the event. It renders illustrated stories about people and goings-on, that involve and engross the reader.

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