Between the 1970s and the 1990s American journalists began telling the news by telling stories. They borrowed narrative techniques, transforming sources into characters, events into plots, and their own work from stenography to anthropology. This was more than a change in style. It was a change in substance, a paradigmatic shift in terms of what constituted news and how it was being told. It was a turn toward narrative journalism and a new culture of news, propelled by the storytelling movement.
Thomas Schmidt analyzes the expansion of narrative journalism and the corresponding institutional changes in the American newspaper industry in the last quarter of the twentieth century. In doing so, he offers the first institutionally situated history of narrative journalism’s evolution from the New Journalism of the 1960s to long-form literary journalism in the 1990s. Based on the analysis of primary sources, industry publications, and oral history interviews, this study traces how narrative techniques developed and spread through newsrooms, advanced by institutional initiatives and a growing network of practitioners, proponents, and writing coaches who mainstreamed the use of storytelling. Challenging the popular belief that it was only a few talented New York reporters (Tome Wolfe, Jimmy Breslin, Gay Talese, Joan Didion, and others) who revolutionized journalism by deciding to employ storytelling techniques in their writing, Schmidt shows that the evolution of narrative in late twentieth century American Journalism was more nuanced, more purposeful, and more institutionally based than the New Journalism myth suggests.