Thursday, October 23, 2003

Notes on the Whole Journalism Thing

Purchased an anthology of journalism pieces a week or so ago. "The Mammoth Book of Journalism," edited by Jon E. Lewis. It consists of reporting from the 1800s to today.

What struck me about the book was the number of pieces coming from the first-person perspective. War correspondents sweating it out on the front lines. Gloria Steinem working as a Playboy bunny. The writing gained from specific, identifiable voices.

What do newspapers print today? Not many individual voices. The ideal is a story written in grand, Godlike third person, all-knowing and all-seeing.

I don't mean to start on the "objective" vs. "not objective" debate. Others chew on that more frequently and perceptively than I could.

Journalism gains verve from vivid voices, though. The much-heralded "new" journalism of the 1960s consisted of writing in which the reporter became part of the story. See Hunter S. Thompson. Blogging has become popular in the past couple of years because we know an actual person produces the content.

People don't frequent this blog because they assume I'm an all-knowing, all-seeing copy editing expert. They come because I have a voice and opinions about the craft. They read one person's take.

People relate to other people. When journalism presents voices that people recognize, they want to read. "New journalism" and "blogs" and "narrative journalism" are variants of the same thing. They're attempts to break from the coldness of the everyday into writing bursting with color, excitement and snarkiness.

We need the basics, obviously. The city council meeting needs 10 inches. The zoning board needs a brief. And so on. These serve readers.

History suggests, however, that the personal voices survive.