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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