Me, Me, Me: The Rise and Rise of Autobiographical Journalism

First appeared in The Routledge Companion to News and Journalism , edited by Stuart Allan, Routledge 2010

The growth of autobiographical, ‘confessional’ journalism is one of the most striking elements in contemporary journalism. This is journalism given over to the intimate details of writers’ personal and emotional lives. Some articles are ‘one-offs’, writers talking about particular events in their lives. Some are barely distinguishable from diaries or blogs, ongoing accounts of the writers’ daily existence. Some are ongoing but focused on problems in the writer’s life, such as divorce or cancer. No subject is off-limit nor are there many limits to the intimacies which writers are now prepared to share. Thirty years ago such columns were almost non-existent, especially in serious newspapers. Now they are a staple element of features sections and weekend supplements, even recognised as a distinctive genre. “This genre” writes Bendorf is “a flexible form of personal essay” which “is a way to share life’s defining events and relationships in a form that connects with your readers.” Where has the phenomenon of autobiographical, confessional journalism come from? Why has it taken hold in a practice whose professional values were previously more concerned with providing a record of events, with objectivity and impartiality? Indeed not only why has it taken hold but why has it become so prevalent? Is this evidence of journalistic dumbing-down?

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Me, Me, Me, Autobiographical Journalism


This article appeared in Journalism ,  October 2010   vol. 11  no. 5  , Sage

While coverage of the environment generally has increased in the national media, some subjects remain difficult to place. One such subject is endangered species and threats to their survival, in particular, loss of habitat. This article is about the reporting of one highly endangered European species, the Iberian lynx, in the UK national press. It exposes the news values determining which stories get into the press. The article also explores the role of individual journalists and environmental campaign groups in getting coverage and the persistence, invention and manoeuvring which leads to innovation in news values.

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The Missing Lynx




This article appeared in Journalism Practice, April 2010 (Vol 4 – No 2), Sage

Confessional Journalism has become a staple of contemporary journalism, either in the form of first person real life experiences (often ghosted by journalists) or regular columns by journalists detailing  intimate details of their lives. The form is now  recognised as a distinct genre but what has not received attention, except as an internal debate within journalism itself, are the consequences for journalism and journalists themselves of this form of writing. There is mounting evidence that editors are exerting pressure towards this type of writing, favouring particular types of writers. This article investigates the compelling ethical implications for  writers and their subjects within the genre and argues that these implications are producing distinctive journalistic responses and strategies. Read the full article.

Journalism Ethics and Confessional Journalism


Inside the hospital that’s leading a kindness revolution: Concluding our series on the crisis of compassion in nursing

You might expect Ward B47 to be a depressing place.

The majority of patients are aged over 80 and the expectation is that 30 per cent will have passed away after three months.

All have mental health issues such as dementia, Alzheimer’s or confusion.

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Aged 94, and frail as a china doll, Sophia struggled to get out of bed. ‘Come on!’ said the nurse. ‘You’re just being lazy’

On Saturday, in the first part of an uncompromising investigation into nursing in NHS hospitals, Ros Coward asked why so many nurses seem to have stopped caring for their patients. Today, in the wake of the damning report into Stafford Hospital, she suggests the troubling answer…

Sarah Allen is in her 20s.

After a recent asthma attack, she found herself in an unusual situation when she was admitted to a ward in a large London hospital where the other patients were mainly elderly, and several were suffering from dementia.

There, she was able to see for herself whether the terrible stories of patient neglect in the NHS — which have become so common in recent years — were true.

What she saw shocked her.

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Why have so many nurses stopped CARING? An investigation into the crisis-hit NHS

  • Robert Francis QC’s report was merely the latest damning indictment
  • Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt warned that cruelty and neglect had become normal in some hospitals and care homes

My 89-year-old mother has suffered with dementia for the past seven years. Over that time she has been in and out of hospital. Some of her care has been excellent, but some has been shocking.

Once, when she collapsed, she was taken to Kingston Hospital, in South-West London. After a long and stressful evening in A&E, a bed was eventually found for her at midnight. 

What a relief, I thought — she was safe and I could go home. As I stooped to whisper goodbye, a nurse shoved something in my face. ‘Sign this,’ she said bluntly. It was a form to absolve the hospital for any loss of my mother’s valuables.

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It’s a nail in London’s coffin when gardens are covered over

The sterile fashion for hard surfaces instead of greenery is contributing to flooding and the disappearance of fauna

For the last six months the house opposite mine has been in the process of “renovation”. This means that, apart from its Victorian facade, every aspect has been “modernised” into a state of gleaming sterility. The finishing touches are being done now. The back garden is being concreted and the front garden covered with what looks like black bathroom tiles. Not an inch of ground has been left visible, let alone a hedge – indeed that was the first thing to go when the builders moved in. The developer is strolling about looking satisfied and the estate agent is in tow composing the brochure. But what he will doubtless describe as “finished to exacting standards”, I prefer to describe as another nail in the coffin of London’s environment.

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Market forces have brought chaos to universities

Lifting the cap on fees has marketised higher education, with falling student numbers and reduced entry requirements

Some call what’s happening in the university sector a “radical overhaul”. This sounds planned and orderly. But as student numbers fall and talk turns to the politically embarrassing possibility of university bankruptcies, this starts to look more like a demonstration of the law of unintended consequences.

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Wandsworth jail reading group: ‘Here, they don’t have to be prisoners’

The reading group in Wandsworth jail offers offenders a welcome escape from their restricted lives

Wandsworth prison is an ominous place with its dark brickwork, iconic gates and perimeter walls topped by billowing rolls of barbed wire. The prison library, however, looks a bit like a comfy community library.

I’m here at the invitation of academics Jenny Hartley and Sarah Turvey who have been running volunteer reading groups in Wandsworth and other prisons for the last 13 years. Recent policy has prioritised vocational qualifications for prisoners. But Turvey sees the groups as equally vital. “The majority of prisoners have had negative experiences of school and are wary of formal education in prison,” she says. “We’re helping prisoners develop skills they need before they can even think about qualifications.”

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Jimmy Savile was protected by the media’s defence of the status quo

Even in places where you might expect most awareness, my experience tells me paedophilia doesn’t get taken seriously

The revelations about Jimmy Savile have rightly induced soul searching among those who dealt with him in the media. How did he get away with it for so long? Why was he shielded? Some people have even asked if he was protected – or helped – by people in full knowledge of his behaviour. But what if Savile was protected, not by a knowing network of big players making big decisions but by endless small decisions to protect the status quo? What if these are the kind of low level decisions – about finding the subject of sexual abuse embarrassing, uncomfortable and disruptive – that go on every day and which mean Savile’s activities don’t belong to a dim and distant, sexist past but very much to the present?

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