Today in Articles That Come Out Every Eight Weeks Just Long Enough For People to Forget That This Has Been Written About For Centuries, one of the most esteemed journalists of our time (just ask him) who works for a media company that propels and profits off the very thing he criticizes, wrote the article “Journalism Is Not Narcissism.” In this article he condemns the recent practice (which is not recent at all) of journalists of the youthful kind who think that journalism is all about their messy breakups, quirky cats and drug addictions. Before I do the inevitable and succumb to the ailment that plagues my generation of writers and journalists and segue into anecdotes from the drivel that is my life (which I can do since this is my blog), I must say that I agree with him on
some things one thing.
It is appalling that teacher Susan Shapiro’s signature assignment for her young journalism students is a humiliating tell-all essay “because they want to publish essays and sell memoirs.” That kind of exercise is reserved for creative non-fiction classes. But Nolan uses her as the impetus to rant against the way journalism is being taught. It’s funny. In my journalism classes I wouldn’t be able to write an Op-Ed generalizing a whole academic institution based on one quote from one teacher. Instead, I would get edits back saying: “MORE EVIDENCE NEEDED. BACK UP CLAIMS” or “SAVE THIS FOR YOUR BLOG.”
Perhaps, it is the fault of Nolan’s education, not recognizing that he is doing exactly what he is denouncing. In my journalism program our teachers understand the state of the profession today and do their best to equip us with the multi-media skills necessary to enter the workforce. For today’s young journalists a notebook and pen coupled with a relentless drive is not enough anymore. We need to be more than competent photographers, coders, videographers, live tweeters, storify-ers and, most of all, we need to be a fully functioning brand. Applications for internships and entry level jobs ask to see your LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook page and your chances of getting the 40 hr/week unpaid internship increase if you have a blog you update consistently.
Maybe Nolan is confused. I’ve never considered the sites he pointed out as the failing of my generation’s journalistic education as actual journalism. They are entertainment. Part of a nice sub-genre, birthed through the Internet, that helps young writers get some exposure and well-needed practice. I know it helps me get exposure and practice. Right now I blog for money and I practice journalism for free. Perhaps Nolan does not know the difference between the two.
There’s a difference between a blog and literary journalism. A blog is what you’re reading right now. There are no rules. I can experiment with my writing style, post my drawings of pot smoking unicorns, whatever. Literary journalism or literary non-fiction (which I think is an underrated genre) is Notes of A Native Son by James Baldwin, Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace and Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion. It is profiles like this. It is different from hard news, but there’s a structure to it and there are rules. Facts need to be present (although these writers have taken liberties on that, especially David Foster Wallace) and ethics need to be upheld. And it happens to be my favorite genre of writing because it is so damn entertaining and informative. And the writers I most admire engaged in this genre and wrote some of their best work in this genre. Maybe I should email him my class reading lists if he is still convinced that we are ALL being taught to be tawdry memoirists.
Hunter S. Thompson wrote about his drug and sex-laced life and so did Norman Mailer. And it was entertaining as hell. Maybe my generation is not doing it well. But that’s what happens when you live in the information age and don’t have strict word requirements, have to fit within certain margins and don’t need to suck up to X advertiser. There is more shit to sort through to get to the good stuff. We can’t all be Mailers. But denying that there is good stuff is the greatest crime of this article. When I saw the title I thought it was going to be a cogent look at the way we tell stories, not another one of these “Back in my day” articles.
What is on blogs today (and yes, Slate, Gawker, and xoJane are all blogs, not shining beacons of young journalism) is not a reflection of my generation’s journalists. For that you would have to talk to one my colleagues who was an overnight embedded reporter in the Cooper Union protest (where we got to break the story before any New York paper, I might add). You would have to talk to another colleague that was trampled on reporting on the Occupy protests last spring. Or the young interns at CBS, NBC and ABC transcribing for the news reels that Gawker writers watch and rewrite with added snark to publish as “today’s gossip.”
The same students with sizable debt and two jobs just so they can take those unpaid internships, because they know it will help them reach their career goals. But I guess that’s not controversial or snarky enough for a blog writer (Yes, I’m dissing myself, a fellow blog writer. Part of my motivation for writing this article was being tired of seeing people shit on my generation for pageviews. I wanted to respond and let my voice be heard through my own blog. And it hasn’t escaped my mind that responding to a popular article might get me some exposure. But at least I know the difference between what I am doing now, blogging, and if I were to write this as a journalistic critique for a newspaper or digital publication. If it were the latter it would be less ranty and I wouldn’t be calling him out so directly).
I would also like to point out that if I wrote Nolan’s article for a journalism class, the edits I would get back would say: “PROPOSE A SOLUTION. STOP BEING SO RANTY.” It’s one thing to point out a problem with this and this of my generation, but it’s a cop out to not offer an alternative. Okay, so we are all Lena Dunhams and “robotic insta-memoirists,” what do you propose we do instead? Like I said before, it is very hard for a young journalist to get their foot in the door without any web presence and writing those love and sex columns and whiny hipster articles for Thought Catalog help us get clips in an industry that is over saturated and underpaid. But we as young journalists know the difference between Thought Catalog articles and journalism. Instead of being another added negative voice to this volatile profession, try to be a part of the solution. Use your mighty linking powers, honed oh so well at Gawker, to showcase The Digital Storymakers Award. Unlike you, it is doing its part to give a shit about young journalists instead of shitting on them.
Like my 80 year old classics professor who spent the entire last semester chastising us for not listening to enough opera and not reading enough obscure Russian classicists, Nolan’s critique dates him and is trite. He oversimplifies the reality of what it is to be a young journalist, sparking enough controversy to get him those lucrative pageviews and fool the readers into thinking that he is an authority on the subject. As a 20 something who is deemed too hipster and addicted to irony by many writers over 30 these days, I appreciate that Nolan decided to bring things down to my meme-filled Instagram-filtered level by engaging in self-parody while parodying the platform he writes for. A Gawker writer critiquing self-referential writing. What an ironic commentary! I get it! I get the reference! Now excuse me while I play my vintage Sega console in my mom’s basement while my friends write ebooks for Thought Catalog on their typewriters, listening to the latest Britney Spear’s single on vinyl and wearing their obnoxious Cosby sweaters. What can I say. We’re in our 20s. We just can’t help ourselves.
Disclosure: I enjoy reading Gawker and read it often, but this article just pissed me off. I actually submitted an essay for their Saturday series which I particularly enjoy. But don’t think this is an embittered rejected writer getting her shots. Know that, while I will comment on Gawker and any other publishing platform that I think crosses the line, I still respect what they do. Because of them many writers can get exposure. And because of them the need to know what kind of mom Kim Kardashian will be is about to be satiated within the next nine months.
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