Nov 22, 2007

Confessional journalism and You

Scott Glover of the Los Angeles Times decides to tell his own story about how he searched for his birth mother in Ireland.

I have nothing against Glover and find him to be an excellent reporter, but as I've said before, I'm not sure why a newspaper that serves the second most populous metropolitan area in the United States feels the need to turn inward to find compelling stories. The only reason Glover's life qualifies as unique enough to be told in a 700,000-plus circulation newspaper is because he works there.

Maybe this is a symptom of globalization, of the Internet and e-mail and cell phones: The easier it becomes to connect to the great big world, the more isolated we feel. The world begins to feel like a crowd and we are but faces, difficult to distinguish and easy to ignore. Vanity and selfishness have become our armor, our tools to create and maintain our identity as the flood of information washes over us. Each blog, Facebook page and confessional a self-contained ark... But who is really watching, reading? Who is paying attention to us?

Hey, it's part of the reason I decided to blog, even though I know this is a conversation I'm largely having with myself.

This little tangent brings me to another thought: This is the Decade of You. Or the YouDecade, to be more precise.

(A quick Google search tells me I'm not the first to have made this pronouncement. Christopher Hitchens does it here at

As the Time magazine cover naming "you" the person of the year showed, perhaps unintentionally, we are largely indistinguishable from one another in this Internet world, a world that feeds on the narcissism that has resulted from the destruction of the individual.

Why else do we celebrate the few that break through? Because it gives us hope that we might escape the You, too.

Think how unimportant you and I really are in this mass-market concept of "You." Time magazine put a mirror on the front cover so that anyone could be the You of the year, and everyone could. That really meant no one was. You and I are inconsequential. It is precisely because our thoughts, accomplishments, looks, beliefs, etc. don't rise above the crowd that we fit the category of You. Did you see that in the reflection?

So of course we want to do something or say something or confess something that makes us stand out - and why not use the tools at hand (the LA Times brand, the built-in circulation)? But, as I just found out, even a seemingly original thought has probably been thought before and is probably already posted somewhere on the Internet.

So, really, why would anyone pay any attention to me? Or to you?


Anonymous said...

Some L.A. Times bean counter is probably encouraging first-person confessionals because they always make the most e-mailed list. Glover's "I found my real mommy" story is still on that list two days later.

Anonymous said...

the first-person phenomenon in journalism is an echo of the memoir craze in book publishing. there are cultural explanations for that trend -- narcissism, the rise of the recovery narrative -- and also some genuinely good books, e.g. angela's ashes, that helped kick off the trend. whatever the causes, it now seems to have infected journalism. you are right to note that journalistic memoir-writing seems vulnerable to the same sorts of embellishments, shadings, and fabrications that have already tarnished the book publishing industry.