Journalism of the past was romanticized and in some specific cases it actually had sex appeal. There was a real sense of dignity and purpose in being a journalist. It was understood that this was an important job that needed to be done by competent people to make sure that people were informed and by extension society ran properly.
There was definitely corruption and external influences that affected the integrity of the institution in the past, but there was a sense of duty and purpose surrounding the profession that made it something kids might aspire to be.
Hunter S. Thompson is the only notable example of a rock n’ roll journalist. That term is kind of misnomer though because if you look up rock n’ roll journalism, the only thing that comes up are publications that cover the rock n’ roll scene.
Thompson brought the aesthetic and attitude of bands like Led Zeppelin to journalism. He was famous for consuming inhuman amounts of drugs and alcohol. But, more important than the chaos brought on by his substance abuse, was the way he made the act of getting a story feel like a covert mission. That element inspires a reverence for the craft and a sense of dangerous fun that brought a whole new level of romanticism to journalism.
The way in which Thompson wrote and conducted himself makes it difficult to categorize and find similar writers. It makes sense that there would be other examples, but none of them have ever been easy to find. Authors like Tim Crouse wrote notable works around the same time as Thompson, but he doesn’t exactly fit the same mold. Charles Bukowski had a similar spirit around the same time, but he wasn’t really a journalist.
The most notable thing about what Thompson did in opposition to his contemporaries — or modern journalists — was that he had an elevated sense of the importance of being a journalist. He brought it to a comical place, but not without conveying a genuine reverence for his duty to get the story.
Bring the dangerous fun back to journalism and treat it like an adventure. Use a little imagination to accentuate the experience. Act like there are people out to stop the story from getting done. Think of it like a game.
Thompson packed up a bunch of drugs and a gun, rented a convertible and brought a partner-in-crime to cover a motorcycle race which would become one of the most famous pieces of gonzo journalism ever written, “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.”
Maybe the guns and drugs aren’t necessary, but there is a lesson to learn from Thompson and “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” Find a modern way to prepare for the mission at hand and have fun pushing the boundaries along the way.
A combination of the reverence for journalism as a craft and the fun risk taking of someone like Thompson will go a long way in helping the public realizes how inherently sexy being a journalist can be.