I’ve been suffering through an identity crisis of sorts for a while about journalism. I’ll be honest.
I will not go into detail about the reasons except for one. That reason is the constant battle I have with determining whether or not something is “newsworthy.”
I think about things in very strange ways and I come up with grandiose, big ideas. I want to write about huge concepts, like humanity and love and life and depression and sorrow. On the other hand, it’s hard for me to come up with the ground-level immediate stories that I am so frequently encouraged to find.
I realize that this is an issue. I realize that my conceptual brain and my constant mental refabrication of every idea Terrence Malick has probably already thought of. But I can’t stop thinking that way. I’ve tried to think more concisely and in more solid terms — but even when I think up more basic and tangible ideas, they don’t give me any satisfaction.
I’ve talked to people about interviewing and one of the common responses that I’ve seen interviewees have when they’re approached is, “Why would you talk to me? I’m so boring.”
But do we really expect any other response? The media perpetuates the concept that only blood, drama and “uniqueness” (whatever that means now) can make a headline. Of course people think they’re boring. I hate having to describe to strangers why I’m talking to them not only because I see that people really do think they’re boring but also because I hate how “average” stories are considered to be less valuable than “relevant” or “immediate” or “current” or “timely” stories. Perhaps dubbing one story “timely” and another story “untimely” (or, in other words, not important enough) is an overestimation of the journalist’s responsibility anyway. Do we really think we are so all-knowing that we can determine that one person (or one event) is more important than another?
I don’t think so.
I even heard the other day people talking about people and their stories. One person said the same thing that I say: how everyone they’ve met is interesting and how they tell their sources that. But then the second person said, “Well, everyone has an interesting story. Some are just more interesting than others.”
That’s something fundamental about journalism that I just can’t get behind. And maybe that’s the source of one of the frustrations I’ve been having.
I will continue to explain to people that I have never met an uninteresting person (it’s true). Sometimes I go into interviews for some specific purpose but I’ll end up talking to them for three hours just because I’m interested in what they say and how they act and how they’re interacting with me and my questions. I test people with personal questions; I pull back to respect their boundaries. I laugh with them and tell them I understand how weird an interview is because it’s weird and at certain points I can’t be anything but transparent. Yes, I will drink beer with them. Yes, if they ask me to withhold something (for a verifiable and understandable reason), I’ll probably do it.
I’m a person and the people I interview are people too.
And if journalists are the ultimate purveyor of humanity, I think we need to escape the veil of newsworthiness and tell those stories that may not be “relevant.” Every interview I’ve had has showed me that everyone has some little interesting thing about them, and I want to be the person to talk about that interesting thing.
People think journalists “use” them and they’re right to think so. Journalists do “use” people to their advantage. They have a “newsworthy” story and they call the right people and get quotes and write the “newsworthy” story afterward and turn it in and never look back. Nobody’s entirely happy in that situation.
I’ve brought up ideas for stories but they’ve been shot down because they’re not timely enough or newsworthy. But they’re newsworthy to me. And they should be newsworthy to everyone else, including people in a newsroom.
What comes first to my mind when I try to defend myself and defend my broad and vague “mist
There’s a quote that is often used to describe the “man bites dog” concept in journalism: the concept that news will cover a man biting a dog because it’s unique but will never cover a dog biting a man because it’s average and run-of-the-mill. It’s a great concept because it’s true. I feel like journalism sometimes falls into its out self-dug pit when it either sensationalizes some oddball story, exaggerates another and ignores another.
Anyway, the quote is, “You never read about a plane that did not crash.”
I guess I want to write about that plane. I want to write about people who are “boring” and who aren’t “newsworthy” and who really are just…people.
Is that wrong?