Thursday, March 11, 2010

CJR: The journalistic education of Gabriel García Márquez

The Columbia Journalism Review had a wonderful article about the role journalism had on the budding career of Gabriel García Márquez. New Journalism has been gaining ground in recent decades, but even in the 1950's, newspapers saw readers' excitement with the story behind the facts.

The renowned author wrote a fourteen-part series for the Columbian newspaper, El Espectador, where he worked when he was 27. During the course of the series, the publication's circulation "almost doubled."

García Márquez had only been toying with some small fiction pieces at the time, but worked mostly as a journalist. This series, about the personal account of a shipwreck survivor gave him the liberty to repeat the tale is telling detail. Here's one sentence from the series:

“'Soon the sky turned red, and I continued to search the horizon,' recalls Velasco (or at least Velasco being channeled by the young reporter). 'Then it turned a deep violet as I kept watching. To one side of the life raft, like a yellow diamond in a wine-colored sky, the first star appeared, immobile and perfect.'"

Another thing to take from this story into the present is that audiences want to be entertained, but I don't think that has to be achieved by forsaking fact for gossip or by producing additional soft news. I think it comes through superb writing, as it should. And the fact that the newspaper doubled its readership through just this series alone really says that if the audience is enjoying itself, it's willing to buy whatever gives it the satisfaction worth an hour or so. Publications should stop trying to just get people to buy the facts from them, but convince them through good storytelling that the facts are worth the time and money they put forth to read a story.

Even aside from journalism, I think it's an important point to make note of another narrative journalist of last century who turned later to fiction: Ernest Hemingway, who wrote for Missouri's own Kansas City Star. Check out some stories of his stories from the newspaper here.

I'd say it at least has something to do with narrative journalist's ability to grasp real life events in a telling way, since all good fiction at least resonates with some part of reality.

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