Monday, January 7, 2013

Most Blogging does not Equal Journalism

Hamilton Nolan, writing on writing at, is a mean, nasty man, who said mean things that hurt me.

Am I doing it right?

So far, so good. I’ve taken a great bit of writing (or an event or result or poll or whatever) and found a way to immediately insert myself smack in the middle of it.

I am part of the problem.

And there I go doing it again.

Seriously, however, ditch this post right now and read what Nolan writes in “Journalism is not Narcissism.” He’s absolutely right (Warning, there be salty language ahead. F-bombs and such, but not liberally used). His thesis: the preponderance of first-person essays masquerading as journalism is demeaning to the profession and leading writers down “a path that ends in hackdom.”

He writes:

The demoralizing truth is that there is a huge appetite for first-person essays of this sort. The pages of Salon, and Slate, and Thought Catalog, and XO Jane, and women's magazines, and lowbrow-masquerading-as-highbrow publications like parts of the New York Times, and Gawker Media are absolutely overflowing with them. At their very best, they offer some amount of insight learned through experience. Mostly, they offer run of the mill voyeurism tinged with the desperation of attention addiction. For those who own the publications, they're great—they bring in the clickety-clicks. But for the writers themselves, they are a short-lived and ultimately demeaning game. They are a path that ends in hackdom. And young writers who've paid good money to attend journalism classes should not be set on that path.

Why does this concern me? (Ah! Did it again! I’m good at this!) Because I teach young writers, and a lot of their writing tends to go this direction. One of our principal assignments focuses on students’ most strongly-held beliefs Somewhat like this (Bazinga! Did it again!). Though we tend towards the “insight learned through experience” end of the spectrum as Nolan describes it, I still wonder about the wisdom behind the assignment. I see the rationale, however: Write what you know. Draw a straight line between that and the royal I, you’ve got plenty of fodder for a 500- to 750-word essay for a bonehead English class.

What’s interesting to watch is the students struggle with subsequent assignments, when the navel-contemplation is greatly diminished. They find out writing is more work than they’d first suspected. When we write about ourselves, we can typically produce – even the novice writers – especially the novice writers, per Nolan; they haven’t used up all their good material yet – stories by the foot. And then can go on to a successful, if rather banal, blogging career.

(Paul Yarrow, News Raider. Guy in turtleneck inserts himself into the news for the laffs.)

First-person writing, and writing where the writer may insert himself or herself for effect can be used sparingly, but I agree with Nolan when he says it’s not the only thing on the menu.

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