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Posts Tagged ‘first-person journalism’

Journalism isn’t narcissism, as Hamilton Nolan noted correctly in his Gawker headline. But as Nolan elaborated, I heard an old theme that I think has misguided lots of journalists. Journalism also isn’t machinery. Journalism is practiced by humans, and journalists and journalism professors who deny their humanity diminish their journalism.

Nolan found fault with a New York Times piece by Susan Shapiro, an author and journalism professor he dismissed as “teaching a gimmick: the confessional as attention-grabber.”

Shapiro encourages her feature-writing students to “shed vanity and pretension and relive an embarrassing moment that makes them look silly, fearful, fragile or naked.” Nolan counters that journalism students instead need to be taught to write other people’s stories:

Your friends, and neighbors, and community members, and people across town, and across your country, and across the world far and wide are all brimming with stories to tell. Stories of love, and war, and crime, and peril, and redemption. The average inmate at your local jail probably has a far more interesting life story than Susan Shapiro or you or I do, no matter how many of our ex-boyfriends and girlfriends we call for comment. All of the compelling stories you could ever hope to be offered are already freely available. All you have to do is to look outside of yourself, and listen, and write them down.

I believe both journalists are right. Journalists need to tell the important untold stories of their communities. Most journalism should be outward-looking. But personal insight can and often should be part of the process of listening and writing down other people’s stories. (more…)

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Jeff Edelstein

I have long thought that journalists are too timid about telling stories in the first person. I noted a year ago that one of the best stories of my career was not published because it was a first-person account.

Columnists get away with writing in the first person, and I’m glad my colleague Jeff Edelstein of the Trentonian had the courage and honesty to tell the story of falling asleep at the wheel with his son in the car.

I hope other journalists with powerful personal stories to tell don’t let our reticence about first-person journalism keep them from telling the stories. And when they tell them, I hope our editors have the good sense to publish them. What are some other outstanding examples of first-person journalism? I’d be happy to share some links here.

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