Your Personal Essay’s in My Journalism!

October 22, 2014 § 7 Comments


Anybody remember the one with the guy eating peanut butter at the opera?

Anybody remember the one with the guy eating peanut butter at the opera?

…Your journalism’s in my personal essay! But are they two great reads that read great together? Do confessionals really get us closer to the truth than reportage?

At the Washington Post, Eve Fairbanks takes a look at the recent trend of first-person narratives used to fill column inches that were previously journalism, and questions whether they really open up new vistas, or are instead inescapably biased and perhaps even jejune.

…perhaps what we’re really seeing, with the so-called democratization of opinion, is how weird and variegated writers’ lives actually are, rather than a profoundly widened window into human experience. From Homer onwards, it’s always been the duty of reporters to tell stories about the lives of those people who cannot spin great stories out of their own astonishing experiences.

Ironically enough, the article is itself a first-person essay rather than journalism. It’s not necessary for every essay mentioned to be investigated, but this leads to lumping them together as not-journalism. Ms. Fairbanks misses, for example, that the woman pictured with twins (whose essay What Happened When I Drove My Mercedes to Pick Up Food Stamps Ms. Fairbanks cites as an example of the trend) is veteran reporter-turned-stay-at-home-mom Darlena Cuhna, and the Mercedes piece sparked a national conversation on poverty that was covered by CNN and Al Jazeera, among other ‘real’ news outlets.

Should the reporter be in the story? Should a story be the reporter’s story? What makes an essay journalism? Ms. Fairbanks examines these thought-provoking questions from several angles and with quite a few links to first-person pieces worth exploring.

Check it out here.

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§ 7 Responses to Your Personal Essay’s in My Journalism!

  • Sammy D. says:

    Observation tells me that individualism and personal perspective are being inserted into many industries that traditionally were reserved for “experts.”

    The media industry is no different – watch your local news channel in prime time – they ask viewers for news tips and scenic or weather photos and now have a 3-minute segment where they read viewer emails for reactions to news stories.

    Journalism has been significantly tainted in recent years by overly-biased reporting and by creeping speculative “chat” rather than factual reports. Who can trust the so-called reporters of truth or their sources?

    With the advent of social media, including blogging, the journalism channels have become democratized, and reporting comes from the first on scene with a smart phone, often not a professional journalist.

    If media outlets are soliciting personal narratives, it’s because it’s lowers their operating expenses or because the reader base demands it or both. There is room for both perspectives – personal narrative and journalistic reprting from an outside perspective.

    Journalists, like many other professionals and blue collar workers, are seeing their industry shift in ways that dramatically reduce their opportunity for gainful employment.

  • bartimaeus24 says:

    writing is more or less a narrative..you can discuss this in length and breadth and always be lest with a question “what exactly is an unbiased version”…journalism is an endeavour to painstaking avoid the loopholes of mono thinking to a great extend, however it can never be totally free from it.

  • kateflaherty says:

    Certainly Brevity blog readers recognize the value of the personal narrative. We know essays open up new worlds to readers of all stripes, and personal narratives can be instrumental in replacing ignorance with empathy. But far too often I see links to online stories that pose as news articles or editorials, yet which present nothing beyond one person’s experience and opinion. Even if I’m swayed by the emotional content of one of these “articles,” I remain skeptical when there are no interviews , no evidence of research, and no information about the event or issue at hand outside of that one person’s experience. These items are designed to elicit pity or outrage, but there’s not usually a whole lot of substance.

  • John says:

    I think that the debate of journalism versus the essay (or creative non-fiction) is rather pointless. It seems to me that with 7 billion people in the world, each with a story or two, the possibilities for essays are endless — and, they enrich us by giving us a glimpse into a life, world, and/or culture that is different from our own. Journalism gives us a recounting of facts. I don’t know why there is a continued debate about which one is some how better, investigative or personal essays. With 7 billion inhabitants on this planet, I think that there is more than enough room for both types of writing.

  • […] been debate lately about how far into journalism the essay should be allowed to go, and what truths are made more […]

  • bartimaeus24 says:

    one must not forget that a huge impact of journalism is to create simply “opinions”…its damn correct to be skeptical about them because today what we get as “fact” is a rehashing of someone’s account…told to you by someone else and finally reports in writing by a wholly different person…personal opinion is bound to creep in…the endeavour should be to not get swayed completely by one recounting or the other and come up with a middle path of one’s own.

  • […] I’m an avid reader of an excellent blog hosted by Brevity, and one of their recent posts touches on something I think about a lot: Your personal essays in my journalism. […]

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