Commentary

Tom Wolfe's Long-Form Legacy Lives On In Nonprofit Investigative Projects

On Tuesday, literary journalism legend Tom Wolfe died at 88. Wolfe, who was famously part of the “New Journalism” movement of the 1960s and 1970s, alongside Joan Didion, Gay Talese and Norman Mailer, helped pioneer the type of deep-reaching, detail-heavy feature writing readers appreciate today.

As Joe Nocera wrote in Bloomberg: “The next time you read an article that you just can’t put down, thank the New Journalism.

Wolfe ended up at New York, where he serialized his book, "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test," after The New York Herald Tribune, where he worked with editor Clay Felker, shuttered.

Lamenting Wolfe’s death as the end of a bygone era when journalism and its practitioners were taken more seriously and supported financially would be a bit too neat. 

Today, attacks on local journalism — evidenced by the gutting of newspapers across the country by Digital First Media and the realities of digital disruption — have imperiled newspapers. It has become more difficult for newspapers to spend the time and money necessary for investigative journalism.

And without it, corruption and injustice often go unchecked.

Despite the negative news and financial realities, some nonprofits are stepping in to support investigative journalism. The Poynter Institute published a roundup of those outlets looking to train the next generation of reporters and offering financial support for those already in the field.

According to Poynter, The Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) recently joined a handful of other outlets, including Report for America, ProPublica and the Nieman Foundation, which launched a fellowship late last year. Three Nieman fellows will spend two semesters at Harvard and nine months reporting an investigative project.

In all, the new initiatives will impact more than 20 communities experiencing a journalism drought.

“As budgets and staffs decline, investigative reporting — resource-intensive and time-consuming — is among the first victims. And yet it has never been more important to our democracy,” Amy Pyle, editor-in-chief CIR, reportedly noted.

While outlets like The New Yorker continue to deliver serious pieces from journalism luminaries, like Rachel Aviv, even newspapers like The New York Times find themselves having to make tough decisions about funding cuts in critical departments.

Smaller outlets will likely come to rely on the collaborative efforts of nonprofit journalism outlets. It’s heartening to see them stay in the fight.

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