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Reportage

What does the word 'reportage' remind you of? That's right - it sounds a lot like reporting! But is reportage a segment of journalism or fiction, or both? Let us look at the meaning, synonyms, conventions and examples of literary reportage to find out!

Reportage meaning

Literary reportage is a genre within creative non-fiction that presents factual real-life stories but with the storytelling techniques and stylistic conventions of fictional works. Therefore, it is a blend between journalism and fiction.


The literary journalists are marvelous observers whose meticulous attention to detail is wedded to the tools and techniques of the fiction writer. Like reporters, they are fact gatherers whose material is the real world...Like fiction writers, they are consummate storytellers who endow their stories with a narrative structure and a distinctive voice.1

Creative non-fiction: A literary genre that uses literary styles and techniques to narrate factual real-life events.


Reportage includes aspects of journalism such as eyewitness accounts of real-life events, facts, research, historical backgrounds, photojournalism, sources, quotes and interviews.


However, traditional journalism is usually objective, constrictive, straightforward distant and detached, which can make it dry and uninteresting. Hence, writers of reportage blend aspects of fiction to make reporting factual events more lively and engaging. Writers of reportage use the first-person narratives to immerse themselves in the story and do not shy away from drama, dialogue, human emotions, personal opinions, character development, vivid imagery and experimentation with plot structure and chronology. Unlike traditional journalism, they focus more on the lives of their individual subjects and how they have been affected by events rather than institutions.


The popularity of reportage came about as a part of the New Journalism movement in America in the 1960s and the 1970s. This movement advocated for pushing past the restrictive boundaries of traditional journalism. Instead, it encouraged using creative storytelling techniques used in fiction to report on real-life events and people.


The primary purpose of reportage is to elicit an emotional response from its readers. By immersing themselves in the experiences of their subjects, writers of reportage comment on the bigger picture of current affairs about culture, politics, and society.


Reportage has been described as

the creative treatment of actuality.2

Reportage synonym

The genre literary reportage has several synonyms. The most common ones are:


  • Literary journalism
  • Narrative journalism
  • Immersion journalism
  • Types of reportage

    Literary reportage often overlaps with other forms of creative non-fiction in the sense that these types also narrate factual events using fictional storytelling techniques and devices.

    Biography


    While reportage often focuses on political and social situations, it pays special attention towards describing the lives, experiences and personalities of the people involved in these situations. Hence, autobiographies, biographies and group biographies have often been described as written reportage, as they also describe real-life people but with creative storytelling techniques.2


    Frank Sinatra Has a Cold (1966) is a written reportage by Gay Talese (1932-present) profiling the singer Frank Sinatra (1915-1998). In the reportage, Talese interviewed everyone in and around Sinatra's life, except Sinatra, whose excuse for not coming for the interview was that he had a cold.


    Reportage, Types of Reportage, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Frank Sinatra in 1947, the subject of Frank Sinatra Has a Cold (1966)


    Travel writing

    Travel writing describes the places the writer has visited and the experiences they have had along the way in a manner that is factual, accurate and truthful but also infiltrated by vivid imagery, personal commentary and experimentation with plot structure. Hence, it can be considered a form of literary reportage.

    Freed from strictly chronological, fact-driven narratives, nearly all contemporary travel writers include their own dreams and memories of childhood as well as chunks of historical data and synopses of other travel books. 3

    Annals of the Former World (1998) by John McPhee (1931-present) charts the geological history of North America done by two decades of research and road trips done by the writer alongside geologists.

    Personal essay

    Personal essays are similar to autobiographies wherein the writer informs the reader of an important lesson they learnt from a real-life experience. Hence, while personal essays are factual, they represent the writer's version of the truth. This leaves room for the writer's thoughts, feelings and interpretation of the event to allow a degree of subjectivity that is often seen in written reportages.


    The White Album (1979) is a book of personal essays by Joan Didion (1934-2021) where she details her mental health struggles alongside other interactions with prominent figures involved in the murder trial of California's Tate murders in 1969.


    Historical writing

    Similar to travel writing, historical writing requires much in-depth research into historical events, figures and contexts. However, the way in which these historically true facts are often presented - the tone, mood and storytelling style - is dependent on the writer.

    Long-form journalism

    Long-form journalism and features are news articles that are longer in length compared to 'hard' news articles. As such, they usually take a deep dive into their subject matter and have more breathing space for description, commentary and character sketches. They usually have a human-interest angle to them and hence deal with the lives and experiences of real-life people.


    Hiroshima (1946) narrates the atomic bombing of Hiroshima (1945) through the eyes of six survivors who were interviewed by American author John Hersey (1914-1993).


    Reportage, Types of reportage, StudySmarterFig. 2 - Atomic cloud over Hiroshima in 1945.

    Reportage example

    Here are a few notable examples of literary reportage.

    In Cold Blood (1966) by Truman Capote

    In Cold Blood is a true crime reportage where Capote (1924-1984) spent six years researching the 1959 murders of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas. Capote conducted several interviews and did extensive research into the murderers, victims, investigators and other parties involved in the case.


    Capote uses sophisticated language, imagery and a deep dive into the complex emotions and relationships surrounding the case, presenting it through the eyes of the murders, victims and community members.


    In Cold Blood is one of the earliest examples of the reportage genre.

    The Executioner’s Song (1979) by Norman Mailer (1923-2007)

    The Executioner's Song is a Pulitzer Prize-winning true crime reportage that details the events surrounding the conviction of Gary Gilmore in 1997, the first person to be executed in the US following the ban on capital punishment being lifted in 1976.


    The book provides a look into the mind of a murderer and the guilt, anguish and fear experienced by Gilmore prior to his execution.

    The People of the Abyss (1903) by Jack London

    The People of the Abyss is a reportage that provides autobiographical accounts of Jack London's (1876-1916) experiences whilst he was living in the Whitechapel district of London in 1902. London's reportage sheds light on the conditions faced by the urban working classes, who often slept on the streets or in workhouses.


    London disguised himself as one of the working-class poor and therefore is the author of the reportage as well as an active participant in its contents.


    Reportage, Reportage Example picture of Jack London, StudySmarterFig. 3 - Jack London, author of The People of the Abyss (1903).


    Reportage - Key takeaways





    References
    1. Norman Sims. The Literary Journalists. 1962
    2. Jerome Boyd Maunsell. 'The Writer as Reporter'. 2020
    3. Casey Blanton. Travel Writing: The Self and the World. 2002
    4. Fig. 1 - Public Domain: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Frank_Sinatra_by_Gottlieb_c1947-_2.jpg
    5. Fig. 2 - Public domain: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Atomic_cloud_over_Hiroshima_-_NARA_542192_-_Edit.jpg
    6. Fig. 3 - Public domain:https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jack_London_young.jpg

    Frequently Asked Questions about Reportage

    Literary reportage is a genre that presents factual real-life stories but with the storytelling techniques and stylistic conventions of fictional works. 

    Some examples of reportage include:

    • In Cold Blood (1966) by Truman Capote
    • The Executioner’s Song (1979) by Norman Mailer
    •  The People of the Abyss (1903) by Jack London

    The primary purpose of reportage is to elicit an emotional response from its readers. By immersing themselves in the experiences of their subjects, writers of reportage comment on the bigger picture of current affairs about culture, politics, and society. 


    Traditional journalism is usually objective, factual, straightforward, distant and detached. Reportage is also factual but uses fictional storytelling techniques like drama, dialogue, human emotions, personal opinions, character development, vivid imagery and experimentation with plot structure and chronology.

    Some types of reportage are:

    • Biography
    • Travel writing
    • Personal essay
    • Historical writing
    • Long-form journalism

    Final Reportage Quiz

    Question

    What does reportage mean?

    Show answer

    Answer

    Literary reportage is a genre that presents factual real-life stories but with the storytelling techniques and stylistic conventions of fictional works. 

    Show question

    Question

    What is an example of a reportage?

    Show answer

    Answer

    Some examples of reportage include:


    • In Cold Blood (1966) by Truman Capote
    • The Executioner’s Song (1979) by Norman Mailer
    •  The People of the Abyss (1903) by Jack London

    Show question

    Question

    What is the difference between journalism and reportage?

    Show answer

    Answer

     Traditional journalism is usually objective, factual, straightforward, distant and detached. Reportage is also factual but uses fictional storytelling techniques like drama, dialogue, human emotions, personal opinions, character development, vivid imagery and experimentation with plot structure and chronology.

    Show question

    Question

    What are the types of reportage?

    Show answer

    Answer

    Some types of reportage are:

    • Biography
    • Travel writing
    • Personal essay
    • Historical writing
    • Long-form journalism

    Show question

    Question

    Which novel is considered one of the earliest examples of written reportage?

    Show answer

    Answer

    In Cold Blood by Truman Capote is one of the earliest examples of the reportage genre. 

    Show question

    Question

    What is The People of the Abyss (1903) about?

    Show answer

    Answer

    The People of the Abyss is a reportage that provides autobiographical accounts of Jack London's experiences whilst he was living in the Whitechapel district of London in 1902. London's reportage sheds light on the conditions faced by the urban working classes, who often slept on the streets or in workhouses. 


    Show question

    Question

    What is The Executioner’s Song (1979) about? 

    Show answer

    Answer

    The Executioner's Song is a Pulitzer Prize-winning true crime reportage that details the events surrounding the conviction of Gary Gilmore, the first person to be executed in the US following the ban on capital punishment being lifted in 1976.


    Show question

    Question

    What kind of fictional storytelling devices do reportages include?

    Show answer

    Answer

    Reportages include storytelling devices such as drama, dialogue, human emotions, personal opinions, character development, vivid imagery and experimentation with plot structure and chronology.

    Show question

    Question

    A reportage is one of the following:

    Show answer

    Answer

    Creative non-fiction

    Show question

    Question

    What aspects of journalism do reportages include?

    Show answer

    Answer

    Reportage includes aspects of journalism such as eyewitness accounts of real-life events, facts, research, historical backgrounds, photojournalism, sources, quotes and interviews. 


    Show question

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