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The Andy Warholization of Journalism

How the news is turning into one giant personal essay.

by | Jul 7, 2024 | Articles, Media, Opinion

Once upon a time, journalists were taught to avoid injecting themselves into a story. The admonition in J-School was simple: “No one cares about you.” Reporters, in parental parlance, should not be seen nor heard. Instead, those telling the story were to become a rock of objectivity. Such rebukes, once strictly obeyed, have fallen by the wayside as print and digital news outlets summarily dump them overboard like tea in Boston Harbor circa 1773. Unlike that powerful pre-Revolutionary War act, this defiance has not brought forth a collective good – yet it spreads like wildfire.

Media outlets have abandoned the news article in favor of the personal essay. This practice has been trending for a while, but it has finally overtaken objective reporting. No longer is there a wall behind the long-held ban on that verboten word “I.” It has crossed the blood-brain barrier and is firmly ensconced in established news publications. Here are a few recent examples regarding the first 2024 presidential debate:

Thomas L. Friedman, The New York Times: “I watched the Biden-Trump debate alone in a Lisbon hotel room, and it made me weep.”

Paul Krugman, The New York Times: “Given where we are, I must very reluctantly join the chorus asking Biden to voluntarily step aside, with emphasis on the ‘voluntary’ aspect.”

Michelle Goldberg, The New York Times: “I think Biden has to get out. As you know, I’ve been arguing since 2022 that he’s too old to run for re-election. But recently, when people have asked me about it, I’ve wondered, is it too late?

Mary Rooke: the Daily Caller: “I couldn’t fathom doing that to my husband. Even during a knock-down-drag-out fight, I could never debase him publicly in such a way.”

One might argue that these are commentary pieces, but why must news analysis include the I-word? Why does anyone care what the writer thinks and feels? Do their personal stories lend credibility or power to the article? Not really.

Journalism and the Super Ego

So why do journalists insist on making themselves the protagonists in so many articles? Perhaps they are desperate for that so-called 15 minutes of fame and feel the need to be the principal in every story they write. Still, it seems antithetical to believe that every news story should be seen through the lens of the person writing it. It could be argued that forcing every piece into the mold of a personal essay limits the reader. An article in the Washington Monthly called “When Journalists Make The Story About Themselves” made the point: “The potential downsides of reporters putting themselves… front and center in their writing … skew[s] media attention towards the somewhat insular and atypical concerns of reporters and editors.”

News articles that don’t involve the author offer up a comfortable distance between the subject and writer, and it is in this space that the reader is allowed to breathe mentally. This is the gap in which the audience can think and decide. When a story is written in the first person, it forces the reader to choose between going against someone’s particular experience or their own perspective. This turns every news report into an acceptance or rejection of the author.

Print journalists aren’t the only ones to blame, however, for the usurpation of objective news reporting. There are plenty of examples in the broadcast news industry. At the risk of kicking someone who is already down, a classic example of this journalistic narcissism is none other than CNN (formerly FOX) broadcaster Chris Wallace.

As the son of the famed broadcast journalist Mike Wallace, Chris contributed to his own demise after moderating the 2020 presidential debate. His incessant interruptions, blatant one-sidedness, and – it must be said – huge ego tolled the death knell for Wallace on FOX. Making himself the center of attention drove the conservative news audience into a rage, and soon thereafter, he was dumped – much to the relief of the Fox faithful.

But Wallace isn’t the only journalist whose work carries the signature line, “Enough about me, now what do you think of me?” There are plenty of others, both in broadcast and print journalism, to carry that water.

Who could have guessed that in the 21st century, so much of life would be defined by the pronouns we use? Journalism today is hardly the pillar of objectivity it is supposed to be, and putting oneself as the leading character in every news story does the audience a great disservice. But perhaps these are the consequences of worshipping at the altar of self.

Read More From Leesa K. Donner

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