The Role of Imagination in Literary Journalism

Author Faculty (Discipline)


Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2018

Publication Details

This article was originally published as:

Morton, L. (2018). The role of imagination in literary journalism. Literary Journalism Studies, 10(1), 92-111. Retrieved from http://ialjs.org/spring-2018-vol-10-no-1/

ISSN: 1944-897X


200101 Communication Studies| 200104 Media Studies| 200199 Communication and Media Studies not elsewhere classified| 200599 Literary Studies not elsewhere classified

Reportable Items



Despite a range of scholars, media ethicists, and practitioners claiming its centrality to journalistic practice, the role of the imagination in literary journalism is somewhat ambiguous and, consequently, often misunderstood. This is arguably due to the ambivalent relationship scholars and philosophers have historically had with this powerful mental faculty and the close connection between the imagination, invention, and the writing of fiction. As this essay argues, however, invention and imagination are not synonymous; indeed, according to epistemologist Lorraine Code, reason and imagination work together to produce narrative forms that are essential for the characterization of human action. This inquiry begins with a brief historical survey of the historical developments that inform a contemporary understanding of the role of the imagination and continues by offering an initial investigation into a range of ways such an understanding can impact literary journalistic practice. Some of the areas discussed include: time, immersion, emplotment, and the relationship between knowledge and understanding. The study also suggests that the imagination has an ethical role to play in the construction of literary journalism, arguing that imaginative projection should not be thought of as a fanciful invention, but rather as an epistemological and moral exercise that recognizes the potential radical difference of experience between practitioner and subject. Thus, the exploration finds that the imagination is indeed a key component of literary journalistic practice and further proposes that practitioners and theorists alike can benefit from a deeper understanding of its role in the representation of reality.


Used by permission: the author and International Association for Literary Journalism Studies

© 2018 International Association for Literary Journalism Studies