The old “New Journalism” debate* — now with JT Leroy

Marc Smirnoff, editor and publisher of Oxford American, reponds at Syntax of Things to John Nova Lomax’s recent Houston Press article portraying Smirnoff as a clueless and possibly unscrupulous yahoo who, in the latest issue of the magazine, misleadingly characterized JT Leroy’s piece on Lorreta Lynn as an “essay” instead of “creative non-fiction.”

Smirnoff says, in part:

Mr. Lomax is not the first reporter to strong-arm an interview subject’s words and meaning out of context, but it is nonetheless wrong for him to do so, especially in a piece about journalistic ethics.

I would also like to point out that Mr. Lomax promised that he would quote me “verbatim.” If by “verbatim,” he meant (as any standard dictionary does) in totality, “word by word,” then most assuredly Mr. Lomax did not keep his promise otherwise your readers would have learned that I put Mr. LeRoy’s creative nonfiction in the same defensible category as I put the creative nonfiction of icons like Norman Mailer, Tom Wolfe, and Joseph Mitchell….

I’m fine with Mr. Lomax thinking I made a bad decision in labeling Mr. LeRoy’s creative nonfiction an essay. That’s a defensible criticism. What I’m not fine with is Mr. Lomax anointing himself arbiter of journalistic ethics when he himself appears so lacking in them.

* See, e.g., Michael J. Arlen’s 1972 Atlantic article, Notes on the New Journalism, arguing, “The New Journalist is in the end less a journalist than an impresario.” And here’s Dana on Leroy.


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