This study deals with the nonfiction novel in journalism ethics, literary journalism, media studies, newsgathering, and reporting and writing classes. We are often confronted with the mistaken notion that the novel is for entertainment while news stories are to provide information and to encourage effective civic engagement. For some journalism educators and for many in the reading public, reading fiction is something one does on airplanes; reading nonfiction, on the other hand, impacts political and social discourse. The borderland between literary and journalistic study is a problematic one, with some professors in English contending that journalism is hack writing and some professors of journalism contending that writing fiction is a harmless diversion if one has the time and the financial means to pursue it. Since Tom Wolfe wrote his landmark book The New Journalism and since nonfiction overtook fiction as the most popular literary form in America, the controversies around literary journalism have intensified. When I teach a nonfiction novel-- from Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood to John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley to John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil to Sara Davidson’s Loose Change to Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild to Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief--definitions of literature and journalism are called into question. These questions are not optional: In a literature or creative writing class, the answers would be thought-provoking, indeed. But in a journalism class, the answers determine the very ways in which future journalists are taught to gather, filter, interpret, and disseminate information about daily events and the people who drive those events.
Recommended CitationWhitt, J., Awakening a social conscience: the study of novels in journalism education, Asia Pacific Media Educator, 18, 2007, 85-100.