I recall within my first few weeks of enrolling at the University of Lincoln, a lecturer of mine telling us that a key part of reaching our goals as Journalists was to decide who, ultimately, were our personal heroes in the field. By realising what they had achieved - and how - we could be motivated and follow by example...A sound idea.
While some around me struggled to think of enough names of notable reporters to aspire to and others (unfortunately, friends of mine) were still determined that they were going to be Batman, I knew my hero immediately.
Hunter S. Thompson (1937-2005) was an American journalist and author and has been a huge inspiration to me since I was 12yrs old. Ever since I picked up his novel, 'The Rum Diary', I've wanted to get into Journalism. It was an anarchic and cynical creation, and remains, to this day, my favourite book.
As a journalist there's no doubt he was big fish come the 1970s. He worked at many of America's most prominent magazines, including what had to be the coolest of the cool: Rolling Stone.
During this time he was one of the forerunners in ushering in the New Journalism movement which was more literary and subjective and changed the face of western journalism up to now. He once stated, “So much for Objective Journalism...With the possible exception of things like box scores, race results, and stock market tabulations, there is no such thing as Objective Journalism. The phrase itself is a pompous contradiction in terms.” This being a notion I share.
His masterful creation, known as 'gonzo journalism', pumped psychedelic colour into news coverage and involved him as the primary character for any story, spouting his own depraved and exaggerated thoughts of people, places and events that were deemed newsworthy by his editor. It's no secret that his writing was influenced by copious amounts of LSD, mescaline, cocaine, you name it. But by fictionalising his findings slightly, he wrote truer than any other sycophantic, favour-seeking reporter that's writing by a biased framework. He called Nixon a "phony and a prick" and called the Bush-Cheney admin a bunch of "crooked war-mongerers". So what? Nixon was a corrupt bastard and Bush only cared about drinking Iraq dry. Would a Sunday paper publish this today? No. But, there was a time when Thompson was respected enough to get his violently critical slurs published. Today, much of his style may be called unethical or irrelevant. Why, because he told things as they were? I tell you, if more reporters were to give you a glimpse of reality, rather than what they were told to pass off as reality, there'd be a fucking uprising.
Thompson will open your eyes to a lot of shit that's flung at you from the higher tiers of society. His work is extremely antiauthoritarian and holds dear a sense of radicalism. Most importantly it teaches you that there's nothing unintelligent or immoral about being radical. And I do not use this word in a political sense, as he very rarely preached his political views. His works teach more of a mantra of living radically and by doing so, no authority or law can stop you by acting on account of what you feel to be right or wrong.
His books are entertaining, funny as hell and callously chaotic. They will literally give you the urge to jump on the next flight to the US and drive around the Nevada dessert in a rented/stolen car in the search of good peyote. He wrote about these kinds of things like they were what he did for fun at the weekends. And why I love him as a journalist? Well he could act as illicitly and depraved as he liked from dusk till dawn, and still go and get it all published in the nine-to-five hours. And people loved him for it. And they looked to him for a morsel of truth. And he gave it to them. That is so fucking righteous.
Books and articles I recommend by Thompson:
- The Rum Diary
- Hell's Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs
- Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
- Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail
- The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved
- The Gonzo Papers.