Yesterday marked the fifth anniversary of the death of Hunter S. Thompson. Thompson has always been a hero of mine with his brilliant writing and his willingness to think outside the box and challenge the status quo, so I thought it would be only appropriate to honour him here.
In a lot of ways, Thompson pioneered the form that many of us bloggers use today, using unconventional approaches that never would have seen the light of day in the conventional media. He frequently abandoned the idea of neutrality, injecting himself and his views into his stories. That's not always a perfect tactic, but it can be used to great effect, especially if the writer keeps a sense of perspective; many sports bloggers bring their fandom to their writing and use it to elevate their work, rather than detract from it. Thompson also told a lot of the stories that weren't being written elsewhere, such as his great work on the Hells Angels and his analysis from Richard Nixon's campaigns. Sports blogs have done a similar service for a wide array of underpublicized topics, including sabermetrics, economic analysis and coverage of smaller leagues and sports. Moreover, Thompson always had a deep love for sports, and some of his best writing is on the subject.
That's not to say Thompson was right in everything he did, or that we should all follow his model completely; many have tried, to varying degrees of success, and it takes special talent to pull it off. In my mind, his career is more an interesting example of what can be done with journalism than a textbook for how to conduct it. Writing is a very individual thing with a multitude of different approaches, each of which have their own merits. We don't need to emulate Thompson down to the last detail, but it's certainly worth recognizing what he did for journalism and considering the unconventional way he approached stories. There will always be only one HST, but in our own small way, many of us would like to think that we are carrying on his legacy.
Related: For an introduction to Thompson's work, check out his excellent Page 2 sports columns from ESPN.com. One particularly good one is this piece about watching the 2001 Stanley Cup final with his friend Warren Zevon, which led to them writing the song "You're A Whole Different Person When You're Scared" together. I couldn't find a video of it, but here's another one that Thompson would approve of: