Why did journalism never go gonzo?

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth


Kevin Anderson pointed out this interview with humorist and newspaper columnist Dave Berry, in which he makes a pretty damning assessment of the newspaper business:

So what role did newspapers play in the decline of humor columns?

Newspapers have had a consistent problem over the past 30 to 40 years that whenever they are offered two options, they always pick the one that is more boring and less desirable to readers.

Personally, I attribute the modern failure of newspapers to English majors. We let our business be run by English majors, but since the model was a foolproof way of making money and the only place for Sears to buy and print a full-page ad, they could do whatever they wanted. This created the notion that whatever they were doing had huge market demand, and when the Internet came along, we found out that wasn’t necessarily the case.

Kevin explores the issues in the second part of that, but it was the first part that struck me. There is, to my mind at least, a streak of self-importance and worthiness in journalism generally, and newspapers specifically, that makes them, well, a touch boring. It’s as if the industry has collectively decided that to be useful dn informative, you have to be dull. And that’s a terrible mistake. One of the reasons that I spend more time in my RSS reader on my iPad than in newspaper apps in Newsstand is that, on the whole, the writing is better – or at least, more entertaining.

It’s like gonzo journalism never happened. Or, at least, that mainstream journalism has so failed to take on its ideas that they left space for it to rise amongst pure-play internet media.

gonzoJournalismmainstreamnational newspapersnewspaperswriting

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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.