Tuesday, May 29, 2007

What is Literary Journalism

I promised to B5 that I will try to explain briefly what literary journalism is all about.

First, here is the link to an article that I personally think is one of the best examples of literary journalism. It was written by an American journalist Anne Hull and is the second in the three part series about immigrants in the States.

LJ is in brief a journalistic text that reads like a novel. It seems to be an oxymoron but it is not. Literary journalism is firstly journalism. That means that the author needs to apporach its topic as any journalis would. The key difference is how he then writes about this topic. A literary journalist would also use literary or narrative techniques that would make the story similar to a novel or a short story. It would still be journalism, though. Every single sentence, every single word must be true, just like it should be in ordinary, traditional journalism. No scene can be made up, no dialogue invented. The literariness comes from the techniques not from fictionalized events.

To make it more clear, here is the abstract of my article Literary Journalism: the intersection of literature and journalism that was published in 2004 in Acta Neophilologica.


Literary journalism is a style of newspaper and magazine writing that developed as a reaction against factographic and objective journalism. Rather than answering the informational who, what, when, or where, it depicts moments in time. It has also managed to eschew the formula of newspaper feature writing, with its predictability and clichés. Instead, it appointed the techniques of realistic fiction to portray daily life. The author of this paper attempts to present the genre that belongs at the same time to literature and journalism; it combines the best of both practices in order to give the reader the most vivid and accurate picture of society. The author of this paper also attempts to present literary journalism as it exists in Slovenia.

I am also adding the link to an excellent feature story published in Spiegel which I would nevertheless not consider literary journalism, but rather as that: an excellent feature story. I think that the key difference is in the quality of writing and the time spent in researching the story. While reading a literary journalism story one would not think to oneself that this is journalism, rather that this is literature. Whereas with a feature story one can still feel that one reads journalism.


nell said...

Hi Ms. Sonja:) I am working now a study on discovering if my country is using literary journalism in reporting the situation of my country, Philippines. Will it be ok if I will be asking fr your assistance on sharing information with me on the method you have used in your paper?intersection of literature and journalism? That is one of my objectives but I don't know how to show it. I am planning to analyze the literary style of short stories we have here and use that guide in analyzing our news to show that we are also using literary writing techniques in writing news. Is that ok?

I hope you can help me with this.Thanks!

Sonja said...

Hi Nell,

thanks for the interest in my article on literary joutnalism and in literary journalism itself.

Please send me your email address and I will write to you with more information.

Best, Sonja

nell said...

Thank you so much Ms. Sonja for replying on my message. I badly need information about this topic because I am working on my thesis. This is my e-add: nell464@gmail.com. I hope to hear from you soon about this. Thank you so much for your help:)

BJ Campbell said...

Hi Sonja,

I've found this particularly helpful for one of my assignments.

I'd like to reference you in my assignment, but I have only your first name and cannot find a copy of the journal article online!

My email is benjaminjohncampbell@gmail.com.

Kind Regards,

Green Beauty said...

You need to spell journalist correctly.

Green Beauty said...

Does literary journalism differ from creative non-fiction?

Sonja said...

@Green Beauty: Thanks for pointing out the missing T in journalist. And yes, there is a difference between LJ and CNF.

Anonymous said...

Would you consider Shah of Shahs by Ryzard Kapucinski literary journalism?

Sonja said...

Unfortunately, I have not read it, however, Ryszard Kapuscinski is considered a literary journalist, and his work, for instance Another Day of Life or Emperor, is often presented as an example of literary journalism writing.

Sonja said...

There is a book about Kapuscinski saying that he fabricated his articles (according to his latest biographer, Polish journalist Artur Domoslawsky, he made up passages in his stories). Problem with journalism in general and literary jounalism in particular is that is hard to recheck author's facts. One has to visit all the places and talk to all the people to verify his/her stories. I don't how many legendary pieces of literary journalism are fakes, but I do know that good journalism is based on verifiable facts. This is true of literary journalism, too.

umar jahanzaib lodhi(Editor) said...

hey MAM..!! its Umar Jahanzaib Lodhi, student of Mass Communication at Forman Christian College, Lahore Pakistan.
with addition to that i am acting Editor of my University Magazine, the point is that a topic " Literary Journalism" is assigned to me and i have to write on this topic in a article form. here Mam kindly share with me some views regarding Literary Journalism, i have consulted with some of my teachers but yet not satisfied. i got your article about Literary Journalism as i searched this topic on Google. can i mention my E-mail ID in your blog so that you may contact me directly, if u dont mind.. :-) anyways your article is really interesting and easy to understand!

Sonja said...


of course you can send me your email and I will write to you.

What exactly would you like to know about literary journalism?

If you ask more precise questions, I could answer better.

You can always check out the following websites: www.ialjs.org, www.poynter.org, and Nieman narrative conference's magazine website http://www.nieman.harvard.edu/narrative/home.aspx
Best, Sonja

umar jahanzaib lodhi(Editor) said...

glad to find your reply! Actually i want write on Literary Journalism in brief. I have gathered some date about how Literature servers the society and how Journalism works in the society. I have learned that Journalism has only '' TODAY'' whereas Literary words are beyond the boundaries of Time.
Moreover, 1) Difference between Journalism and Literature and then Relationship of Literature with Journalism. that's i wanted to ask Mam :-)I'm a Student of Mass Communication as i have mentioned in my last post, and will be till my last breath. Apart from all that i have a lot of passion for Literature. i strongly believe that Human being is a life long leaner and I am! Thank you very much Mam for giving time, so kind of you!

Sonja said...

Please, send me an email and I will try to prepare an answer to your question. Best, Sonja

umar jahanzaib lodhi(Editor) said...

its my E-mail Id , it will be a great pleasure for me if u prepare an answer! thank u v much Mam

Tikum Mbah Azonga said...


It was heart-warming to run into your blog article on Literary Journalism. I have adopted it as an area of research in Mass Communication and Literature.

I am by training and years of experience a journalist. In fact, after many years in the field I am today teaching journalism and mass communication full time here in Cameroon at the University of Buea.

I am also a published author of poetry and short stories. Furthermore, I have written and broadcast hundreds of journalistic articles over the years.

But talking specifically of Literary Journalism, please take a look at the following article I published recently. To access the article, follow the following link of my blog:

Tikum Mbah Azonga

Tikum Mbah Azonga said...

The link to my blog piece of Literary Journalism did not come out. Here is another attempt to send it:



Manali said...

Hi Ms Sonja, I stumbled across your blog while I was preparing to write a short note on literary journalism. Thanks for the info :)

Sonja said...

@Tikum and Manali: thanks for your comments and link, Sonja

Neil Campbell said...

Hello Sonja
Your site has been very helpful in both clarifying what literary journalism is, & providing an excellent example of the difference between it & a good feature article - something I had been struggling with in the early weeks of my Masters degree here in Sydney. I aspire to it, and shall go on from here.

Sonja said...

@ Neil: Thank you.

Anonymous said...

my name is zevonia..i'm journalist for radio.in my job focus about youth radio for peace building, i'm interesting to write with literary journalism style, in documentary and feature. so maybe i can learn more about literary journalism from you, so i can more professional to be journalist. now I work in Timor leste. many thanks

Sonja said...

@zevonia: thank you. It's always good to know that my blog post helped somebody understanding literary journalism.

Anonymous said...

Hi Sonja if it is not problem for You could You help me. I am an student from Croatia and writing my final thesis. I would like to found out what's happened with LJ in Croatia during '60 and '70. So can You send me your email address Thx a lot

Sonja said...

@Anonymous: Why don't you contact me on FB? Or write me your email address. Than I will see if I can help you.

Raychelle Mutisya said...

Hi Nell and everyone, your article and the comments are quite informative. I LJ is my thesis topic and am sure i could use a great deal of your help. please contact me on
(kokipim@gmail.com) and please share the info and materials that will be of help. Thanks in advance.

David D.H Kim said...

Hi Ms. Sonja, my name is David and i'm currently doing masters in journalism. I'm currently working on the topic in literary journalism and your article is very informative and helpful..

I have a class presentation on the literary journalism and it's part of Journalism and Law unit.

I'm suppose to discuss the legal and ethical pitfalls of literary journalism.

Some one mentioned that Ryszard Kapuscinski's work on 'Another day of life' was in fact fabricated and it shouldn't be considered as literary journalism because according to what you have mentioned literary journalism is not different to any form of traditional journalism but perhaps it involves different type of approach from author to write a story and it's still based on facts.

Has it been any legal cases that you would know of that when the journalist uses literary journalism with their particular work but it's been involved in legal complications or issues for claiming otherwise?

I would love to exchange emails and discuss on this.

Please email me back at dhkim9@student.monash.edu or david.dh.kim88@gmail.com



Sonja said...

Hello, I sent you an email with some answers. Best, Sonja

Nefertari said...

Hello Sonja! I'm going to be working on a thesis on whether or not literary journalism is used in newspapers in the Caribbean would you be able to help me with background information on LJ itself please?

Sonja said...

Try this site www.ialjs.org. I think you will find a lot of info there. Additionally, you might want to check out this fairly new book on LJ: Literary Journalism Across the Globe. Best regards, Sonja

Julia Zasso said...

Check out my blog post for some tropes/patterns common in literary journalism and pop science today: http://juliazasso.wordpress.com/2014/06/27/is-literary-journalism-making-us-stupid/