Can Journalism Be Personal?

The MU School of Journalism drills several overarching themes into its students’ heads. One of those themes is taught a core tenant of practicing quality journalism: DON’T INSERT YOURSELF INTO THE STORY. Journalism is not about the journalist: it’s about the story, the people, places and things the journalist covers. Nobody cares what you (the journalist) think or feel. Focus on your subject and keep yourself out of it as much as possible. Get out of the way so the story can shine through.

In so many instances, I agree with this principle. I think a lot of journalists (particularly, radio-TV journalists) are becoming pundits and personalities more than professional storytellers. By sharing more of their opinion than the story their opinion is based on, consumers don’t learn. In these instances, journalism does not educate the public. These “journalists” do not arm people with accurate and comprehensive knowledge, which is their job.

But there are also examples of professional storytelling that include the storyteller’s perspective. MediaStorm produces “cinematic narratives that speak to the heart of the human condition”. One particularly effective documentary-style piece is “The Sandwich Generation” by Julie Winokur and Ed Kashi. The filmmaker-photographer couple took in Winokur’s 83-year-old father, Herbie, when he could no longer care for himself. They documented their personal experience joining “some twenty million other Americans who make up the sandwich generation, those who find themselves responsible for the care of both their children and their aging parents.” 

Watching these journalists live their subjects (which is how Kashi describes the experience in his epilogue about “The Sandwich Generation”) captivated me. The documentary-style of storytelling was engaging, consuming, all-encompassing and illuminating. I got a great glimpse into what it’s like to care for an elderly relative, and hearing from the storytellers themselves enriched the experience, adding a layer of impact and honesty.

Is one way right, the other wrong? No. I think context can determine the tone and format for storytelling. Different styles of journalism work better in different platforms. I find myself more drawn towards long-form, documentary style journalism, but I also love traditional journalism that puts all the focus on the subject.

As a student at the MU School of Journalism, I hope to learn every storytelling style. When I graduate, I’ll be equipped to adapt to different situations, and learn to produce journalism in whatever way is most appropriate and best to capture the story at hand.

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