Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Getting personal

Those with even a hint a journalistic savvy know there’s no “I” in reporter. There is you, the reader, and they, the subject of the reporting, but the writer him or herself is often omitted as a voice to help maintain a sense of objectivity –even though objectivity itself is often very contrived among members of the media.
But thanks in part to the first-person naratives often used in the so-called blogosphere, there seems to be an increasing habit of reporters –or more likely editors prodding reporters –to generate personal accounts of the stories they’re covering. In the past week, the Post-Star and The Saratogian have generated a total of three such accounts.

Granted, the Post-Star is no stranger to experimenting with journalism. Their whole Web site is a quasi-graveyard to failed experiments in the field, such as the “video reports” and “online exclusives.” In a more recent excursion in experimental reporting, the Post-Star’s staffers are now penning first-person accounts to stand along side online feature articles.

First, there was the account of one reporter’s attempts to harness a heifer at the Saratoga County Fair, something that even the people showing them probably glossed over while reading the paper. Coincidentally on the same day, a Saratogian reporter gave readers his thoughts about his first water-skiing attempt in many years, which coincidentally was just as uninspiring as the Post-Star’s piece. And then this week, another Post-Star reporter gave her first-person account of riding a mechanical thoroughbred; a quirky if not kinky subject that is a bit more interesting than binding bovines or beginner water-skiing, however not by much.

Granted, these stories give a human element to their respective writers, which is a good addition to journalism; as any experienced pen jockey could attest, writing is always much more compelling when the writer is fully immersed in a story. And too often do newsreaders simply garner information from articles, rather than giving consideration to the fact that a human mind and not a computer created what they are reading.

But with this said, these reporters need to do something out of the ordinary –say base-jumping off some towering mesa in South America or maybe yoking a water-skiing cow while mounted on an adjacent mechanical thoroughbred –to truly utilize the first-person narrative for flavor. Yet in all three of the aforementioned cases, these reporters chose –or perhaps were assigned –vastly mundane topics that most people either have or could experience on any given Sunday.

Also, there’s a strange line of formality that’s crossed when the subjective first-person narrative is employed. That’s a tough line to cross too, when your job generally hinges on maintaining distance and objectivity.

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