A student of mine this week created a sports story that included some creative flourishes drawn from here and there on the internet. GIFs, photos, tweets and the like were included, and they were relevant, but outside his own actual coverage of the event. I had to make a decision: Do I accept this work? (Note: He did consult me in advance about whether I would.) Or do I force him to stick to the traditional rules of journalism? In other words, should I stamp out his creative coverage, full of fun, yet also serious, of a basketball showdown between John Carroll, where I teach, and arch-rival Mount Union?
I decided to accept it with all its creative flourishes, in memory of this article by the late, great Hunter S. Thompson. As I told my student, if Thompson could mix fantasy and fact while covering real events for the likes of Rolling Stone magazine, who am I to prevent you from trying a few creative flourishes in this one article? As long as you understand that it’s not generally accepted in mainstream media, nor is it generally accepted in my courses without permission, I’m going to allow — maybe even encourage — his rather wonderful approach to a somewhat mundane assignment. I can’t share that assignment with you here because it’s student coursework, but he will have the option to share it after I send him my feedback.
In honor of this, I’m linking to the blog Grantland and a post by Michael MacCambridge, which reproduces the first famous example of Gonzo journalism by Hunter S Thompson, which also happened to be a sports story. “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved” appeared in 1970 in an alternative publication called Scanlan’s.
I should mention, as a warning, that Thompson’s story uses the N-word in a couple of places as it would have been used in Southern discourse at the time. There is also insensitive use of religious words in swearing.
However, I love this post for the notes at the beginning and the end about how the story came to be the way it was, the initial reaction, and Thompson’s own decision to continue writing this way because, as he put it:
“I was sure it was the last article I was ever going to do for anybody,” Thompson said in a 1974 interview with Playboy. “Then when it came out, there were massive numbers of letters, phone calls, congratulations, people calling it a ‘great breakthrough in journalism.’ And I thought, ‘Holy shit, if I can write like this and get away with it, why should I keep trying to write like the New York Times?’ It was like falling down an elevator shaft and landing in a pool full of mermaids.”
So my question to reader is, if a student of yours got creative in a journalism assignment, what would you do?