A Proposal and Guide for Writing Immersive Journalism like David Foster Wallace

My high school english classes were the most interesting classes in my IB program. This was largely due to some awakening I experienced in writing and reading thanks to a man known as David Foster Wallace. Our first assignment was to analyze and comment on the choices made by the writer David Foster Wallace in his essay “Consider the Lobster.” In his article, DFW shared his experiences of attending the annual Maine Lobster Festival that included observations of its attendees, a history of lobster catching, and a philosophical exploration of whether lobsters feel pain when being boiled alive. It may seem underwhelming but his writing is addictive.

DFW reflecting on his intelligence in all matters unrelated to fashion

DFW has written many articles over his lifetime for small magazine publications or news media websites, but unlike other writers, DFW’s work stands head and shoulders above his peers for its ingenuity and brilliance. Not only does he engage mundane topics in ways that are disruptive to how we view things, he does so while unapologetically bashing their existence and succeeding in leading us as readers to question it too. Reading his work opened my eyes to a style of writing that felt scandalous relative to the academic writing I had been familiar with prior to the class. He engages topics that are overlooked or under considered in ways that are endlessly entertaining–leading me to want to emulate this approach to immersive journalism.

Immersive journalism is the appropriate genre for someone who wants to write about their experiences in their summer internship working real-estate finance in Des Moine, Iowa. I currently possess a list of observations and opinions that are begging to be written for audiences that can emphasize with my trauma of corporate boredom. Immersive journalism is a form of news reporting or in my case, informative writing, that’s written by someone who has experienced that subject matter personally. Because the topic of my writing will be on the mind-numbingly boring life of Iowa real estate finance, a style of writing similar to DFW’s will help me entertain my audiences while informing them of what that life is like.

Immersive journalism will allow me to be effective in sharing my experiences for a few reasons. It’s affords me the opportunity to foster empathy in my audience by sharing personal experiences as opposed to a commentary on office life from someone on the outside looking in. Because I am joining several conversations on corporate life, Iowa life, intern life, and boredom life, immersive journalism will allow me to serve the purpose of my genre: to inform while entertaining. I mention entertain because this is not some article on sex trafficking in Nigeria. I am going to attack the boredom of working in Iowa for a company with an average employee age between 45 and 55. This will not be a serious matter and because my complaints will most certainly come off as petulant, they will be complemented with humor targeted at myself.

Lastly, my piece would preferably be published in an independent magazine. Because the final product would be too long for a new source like NYT or the Washington Post, It would be more appropriate for a magazine, intended for laid back readers with the time for a more sizable chunk of reading. The audience is nobody in particular, but can be anyone subscribed to that magazine and are hooked by the title of the article. The goal is to entertain as many people as possible and because the article will touch on topics that are felt by those working in environments that are slow or regressive, they will be the audience I hope to reach.






The following are a list of elements that are necessary in defining my self-titled genre I will explore for experiment two: David Foster Wallace Immersive Journalism.

1.Immersive Journalism is told in first person about the events or situations experienced by that writer.

Immersive journalism is when a journalist immerses their self into the experience of which they’re writing about in order to provide more depth and insight in their work. While the write does not necessarily have to express their thoughts on certain moments or aspects of that experience, the narrative will ultimately take on the first person perspective. The first person narrative is particularly effective in this genre for it’s ability to create empathy in its audience. Immersive journalism when utilizing empathy has the power to convey information that may otherwise be difficult without someone who has experienced it themselves.

2. Journalism in itself is the profession of writing for the sake of news and therefore the primary goal is to inform.

Journalism is defined by the American Press Institute as the “activity of gathering, assessing, creating, and presenting news and information. What distinguishes journalism as a whole from any other genre of writing is that it’s centered on news. It’s rhetorical purpose is to inform the audience on something of relevance in a way that caters to their needs. By needs, I mean how that reporting is delivered to the audience for their ease, appealing to their emotion when appropriate and including evidence that maintains their curiosity in the subject matter.

3. The “David Foster Wallace” part of the genre title infers a style of immersive journalism that extends beyond basic reporting of news.

The reason I have chose this genre is not for the immersive journalism component, but because of the way David Foster Wallace composed his immersive journalism. His style of writing is unique from any other kind of immersive journalism and it is one I will attempt (and probably fail) to emulate. For those who have been living in caves, David Foster Wallace is considered one of the greatest writers of the twenty first century. Having blown the minds of self aware teenagers and mature adults everywhere, his style of writing is what journalism should strive to be: form-breaking and entertaining while fact-based and brutally honest. On writing, DFW was quoted saying “If a writer does his job right, what he basically does is remind the reader of how smart they are. Wake the reader up to stuff that reader’s been aware of all the time.” This is clear in his work as he has made a name for bashing the most mundane events, qualities, and situations in our culture. He has contributed a perspective to topics that can make anyone become addicted to learning more. However, he’s not to be mistaken as someone who only sneers at the behavior of others as the “primary butt of [his] humor is himself” (NYT). His creative approach to immersive journalism will be the style of writing I attempt to emulate.

4. Undefined Writing Structure

There aren’t any conventions that apply to immersive journalism in regards to writing style or formatting. While immersive journalism is often narrated in first-person in the past-tense, there are no rules to how formal the writing should be or if the writing is intended for a newspaper or for a memoir. Immersive Journalism can pair with many different writing genres that will then guide these details but to qualify as immersive journalism, the text only needs to satisfy the purpose of informing through personal experience. This affords the writer plenty of space for creativity in how they develop their text in order to best entertain or inform their audience. Immersive journalism can take on the form of a video essay (like 60 Minutes) or a magazine article (DFW for Harper’s Magazine) that will reach its intended audience.


One thought to “A Proposal and Guide for Writing Immersive Journalism like David Foster Wallace”

  1. Cam – great post! I immediately was hooked because of your obvious passion for David Foster Wallace’s work and how much it impacted the way you thought about writing and the world. I’m very eager to see how your final piece will affect your readers in similar ways. On the topic of audience, what do you want them to take away after reading your immersive journalism? How do you want them to feel? You should consider these questions while writing to help set the tone. It is evident that you put extensive thought into this blog post / experiment (down to where it would be published!), which is very impressive. I wasn’t too familiar with the affordances and conventions of the genre, however you explain those very well here, and I appreciate how you are almost making up a new genre! I’m looking forward to seeing your next steps 🙂 PS… here is the DFW commencement speech I mentioned in class, definitely check it out! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sm95eZ1PZL0

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