I have a personal struggle to share and I’m going to blog about it for the next six months.
Isn’t that the thing for journalists to do? It’s no longer enough to be interested in things, ask questions and share as many sides of the story that you can. Your story has to permeate the piece – and, preferably, you become the story.
I’m not just talking about articles where a few lines like “I met somebody and I was so nervous I bumped into the door” are thrown in. No, it’s the conscious, forced effort to be a compelling personality in the name of page views.
Television has always been susceptible to the cult of personality. If you’re interesting, your opinion becomes more important, and people watch. Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann, and to a lesser degree CTV’s Paula Todd and CBC’s George Stroumboulopoulos all play this game. People want to spend an hour a night with people who are passionate and likable, not just respectable. So you do what you gotta do, right?
However, the whiff of desperation becomes stronger in print. Notable newspaper columnists like the Globe and Mail‘s Christie Blatchford and the Toronto Star‘s Rosie DiManno have been known to share tales of their sex lives and personal miscellany when they run out of news to opine on. And it’s a living for the much-derided confessional columns of Gen X-ers Leah McLaren (The Globe and Mail) and Rebecca Eckler (Maclean’s).
But what absolutely reeks is the rise of the confessional journalist blog. In particular, the Toronto Star is leaping headfirst in this direction. Follow columnist Antonia Zerbisias as she loses weight in her Broadsides blog! Relate with reporter David Bruser as he tries to beat the cancer stick in his Smoke Signals blog!
Please – who cares? — and don’t you two have more important things to cover?
Besides, no calculated mainstream media blog has hit pay dirt beyond their readership base. Buying bloggers out only seems to dilute their influence (see The New York Times‘ TV Decoder and the Los Angeles Times’ Gold Derby). Simply handing a Movable Type account to any staff writer willing to offer up their personal lives will not make them the next Stephanie Klein, nor bring in the cash and influence of a Perez Hilton.
Things happen more traditionally in the big media machine. A reporter’s work is consistently good and they work their way through the ranks to become well known – your city columnists, your local and national anchors, etc. Media figures that the public would be interested in reading about don’t have the time to blog – they’re too busy doing what made them significant in the first place. (Or if they’re foolish, they offer up manufactured messes like CBS News’ Katie Couric’s Notebook.)
Every time the media puts good reporters onto half-baked confessionals, they waste resources, lead their talent astray and dilute their brand. Worst of all, they lose a piece of themselves to the drone of the blogosphere — pieces they can’t afford to lose.
EDITOR’S NOTE (Mar. 13/08): Two corrections (hat tip to Marco and Antonia) — Blatchford writes for the Globe not the Post (duh!) and Zerbisias’ blog is called Broadsides not Broadstrokes.