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The term “Gonzo journalism” gets thrown around a lot to describe any journalist who writes a piece under the influence of drugs (or, at least, when he admits to this drug use in the story – otherwise I think a lot more journalism could be classified as “Gonzo”). But the movement that Hunter Thompson defined really had less to do with the use of drugs and kee-razy antics than it had to do with inserting yourself in the story, shedding any guise of objectivity, and reporting not just on the story but the reporting of the story as well. Take Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail as an example; while Thompson mentions Wild Turkey more times than you have fingers to count, the story is really about a reporter for the then-little-known Rolling Stone magazine pulling back the curtain on the ludicrous, staged, scratch-each-others’-backs nature of political campaign reporting.

I love this piece by Grant Howitt about the Panasonic Toughpad Press Conference because, while he does mention what he can piece together about the Toughpad, he casts a more inquisitive eye on the tech release press conference beast itself, and on the journalists at the press conference doing the reporting.

The devices can be used in heavy rainfall. I think for a second that the image illustrating heavy rain – a faceless man in a trenchcoat and leather gloves – looks like it is illustrating cold-war era spying, instead. The Toughbook would be good for spies, I think. It probably deflects bullets. You could use it to beat up an informant. That sort of thing. That should be their marketing gambit. An embittered agent thrashing the Toughbook against the face of a scared Eastern-European man, teeth and blood on the floor, yelling TELL ME WHERE THE BOMBS ARE HIDDEN DAMNIT TELL ME NOW PEOPLE ARE GOING TO DIE

Jan stops for a second and says there will be a demonstration. He says “With the nice police ladies we are to make some watersports,” and half-laughs, half-smiles awkwardly. He says that onstage in front of the world’s press. He seems to think that is fine. The women come forward and pour water from a jug over a toughbook sat in a perspex case. People take pictures.

A man in charge of something important just made a SEX PISS JOKE at the Panasonic Press Conference and that’s all fine. I don’t understand. I don’t understand. Is that fine? Is this just what happens at tech events? I want to have a lie down.

Since these press conferences are really little more than big commercials with the press releases already written, Howitt’s Gonzo approach seems to be a much better way into the story of our obsession with the latest and greatest tech.

“The Panasonic Toughpad Press Conference” by Grant Howitt on LOOK, ROBOT

Simon Rich reads from “Center of the Universe,” which
will appear in his new book The Last Girlfriend on Earth

I racked up a lot of my early writing clips in college writing humor pieces for websites like Yankee Pot Roast, Points in Case and CollegeHumor. I just recently started actively writing humor again, so I was delighted when I received an issue of The New Yorker last month that featured a story from Simon Rich titled “I Love Girl.” Back then, when I was writing and pitching humor pieces daily, I picked up Rich’s first book Ant Farm at the college bookstore. It’s a book I still flip through regularly, along with Jon Stewart’s Naked Pictures of Famous People, Steve Martin’s Pure Drivel and McSweeney’s Created in Darkness by Troubled Americans, whenever I need inspiration or just a good laugh. There seems to be a trend among comedians towards publishing more memoirs and confessionals, but I’m still a fan of the short humor collection above all else.

“I Love Girl” is the story of a caveman who is in love with a girl:

I have been working on Girl’s path for many years, picking up the black rocks and carrying them away. I never throw her rocks off the cliff like normal rocks. Instead, I put them in a pile next to my cave. I like to look at the pile, because it reminds me of how I am helping Girl. My mother, who I live with, says the pile “has to go.” (I worry that she will move the pile, but it is unlikely. After all, she is an elderly thirty-two-year-old woman.)

“I Love Girl by Simon Rich

Somebody sent an article from Fast Company’s co.create blog around the copy department last week, and I saw that one of their writers, Joe Berkowitz, had recently conducted an interview with Rich. He offers some great insight into his process and how he jumps between different genres and forms (Rich has written for Pixar and SNL). I found this tidbit about generating ideas particularly inspiring:

I find in general that if I don’t have any ideas on what to write about, I just research whatever at the moment I’m extremely interested in. I read a lot of nonfiction on subjects I’m interested in, and that usually knocks something loose. A few months ago, I was stuck and I wasn’t really sure which of my projects to work on, and I was kind of bored with some of the stuff I was doing, so I just spent a few days reading books about monkeys and sign language and teaching them how to talk. Nothing came of it really, but by the time I was finished reading about monkeys, I was ready to jump back into my novel. Reading a lot of nonfiction helps. Wikipedia is also a big help. There’s always something interesting on Wikipedia–the random article button is great. When I was writing Free Range Chickens, I had just discovered Wikipedia and one of the ways I came up with ideas was to just keep refreshing, and keep clicking the random article until a premise occurred to me.

“How to Write For Any Medium (From a Guy Who’s Written For “The New Yorker,” “Saturday Night Life,” and Pixar)” by Joe Berkowitz

Skiing and snowfields, c. 1930s, by Sam Hood

Photo: “Skiing and snowfields, c. 1930s,” by Sam Hood / Flickr

This piece by Jesse Singal utilizes one of my favorite writing tools for breaking into a story in a different way: taking a known form (in this case, a step-by-step guide) and using it to tell a story. Singal executes it perfectly, and as a neurotic myself, whose brain is “a machine built primarily to weave disaster movies out of life,” it hits home particularly well. Though I learned to ski at a young age, before I was aware of all the terrible things that could possibly happen that I might want to be afraid of, Singal’s observations about the finer points of skiing still strike all the right chords:

The sign by the lodge promises Refreshments. But for the mountain’s owners to display photos of thick hot creamy broth laden with clam and potato to very hungry, very cold people who have already paid an eye-bulging amount for the privilege of skiing, and to then attempt to charge them $9 for a thimbleful of it, isn’t just a ripoff—it’s a betrayal.

“The Neurotic’s Guide to Skiing” by Jesse Singal

[A note about the photo – I found this great archival picture in the Flickr Commons, where a search for skiing brings up hundreds of funny, breathtaking and otherwise extraordinary shots, mostly of the vintage variety. Here are a few other shots from the collections – there are plenty on Flickr to check out if you’re interested.]