Gonzo journalism is a style of journalism which is written subjectively, often including the reporter as part of the story via a first person narrative. The style tends to blend factual and fictional elements to emphasize an underlying message and engage the reader. The word Gonzo was first used in 1970 to describe an article by Hunter S. Thompson, who later popularized the style. The term has since been applied to other subjective artistic endeavors.
Gonzo journalism tends to favor style over accuracy and often uses personal experiences and emotions to provide context for the topic or event being covered. It disregards the 'polished' edited product favored by newspaper media and strives for the gritty factor. Use of quotations, sarcasm, humor, exaggeration, and even profanity is common. The use of Gonzo journalism suggests that journalism can be truthful without striving for objectivity and is loosely equivalent to an editorial.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream followed the Mint 400 piece in 1971 and included a main character by the name of Raoul Duke, accompanied by his attorney, Dr. Gonzo. Although this book is considered to be a prime example of gonzo journalism, Thompson said that it was a failed experiment. He had intended it to be an unedited record of everything he did as it happened, but he edited the book five times before it was eventually published.
Thompson would instigate events himself, often in a prankish or belligerent manner, and then document both his actions and those of others. Notoriously neglectful of deadlines, Thompson often greatly annoyed his editors because he often faxed articles late, too late to be edited but just in time to make the printers. It is speculated that Thompson's work going to print unedited due to a late delivery was completely intentional. Thompson wanted his work to be read as he wrote it, in its "true gonzo" form.
"I don't get any satisfaction out of the old traditional journalist's view— 'I just covered the story. I just gave it a balanced view,'" Thompson said in an interview for the online edition of The Atlantic. "Objective journalism is one of the main reasons American politics has been allowed to be so corrupt for so long. You can't be objective about Nixon."
Historian Douglas Brinkley said gonzo journalism requires virtually no rewriting and frequently uses transcribed interviews and verbatim telephone conversations.
Gonzo journalism can be seen as an offshoot of the New Journalism movement in the sixties, led primarily by Tom Wolfe, and also championed by Lester Bangs and George Plimpton. It has largely been subsumed into Creative nonfiction.
Gonzo also occurs when an author cannot remove himself from the subject he investigates. In some cases -- such as tornado chasing, wherein most documenting is done by the person driving the car and holding the camera -- the gonzo element is inherent. In most other cases, however, it is a deliberate and voluntary choice of the journalist, or the media firm for which he or she works. Thompson felt that objectivity in journalism was a myth. The term has now become a bona-fide style of writing that concerns itself with 'telling it like it is', not far from the New Journalism practiced by Tom Wolfe, Terry Southern and John Birmingham.
Fratire author Tucker Max has also been recognized as using the gonzo style in his drunken, sexual stories. Another writer who has worked in "gonzo" mode is the illustrious Alan Cabal, who writes for CounterPunch magazine.
The Gonzo Fist, a two-thumbed symbol attributed to Thompson originally used as the slogan for his 1970 campaign for sheriff of Aspen, contains within the image a peyote button, the bud of a cactus plant that has hallucinogenic properties when ingested. The fist is combined with the word "Gonzo", so styled as to form the hilt of a sword.
In other contexts, gonzo has come to mean "with reckless abandon," or, more broadly, "extreme". Gonzo porn refers to pornographic films which are filmed by a participant, and as such have eliminated fictional plot and scripted dialogue and focus on the sex act. For parallel uses of gonzo, see What Is Gonzo?. One of Jim Henson's muppets was named Gonzo the Great, created by Dale Goelz.