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

Sending Liz Jones to report on Somalia is grotesque

The fashion writer represents the worst excesses of the west’s dieting obsession. Why send her to cover a devastating famine?


Who would be the most inappropriate journalist you could think of to send to cover the famine in Somalia? Asked that question, it wouldn’t be long before most people arrive at the correct answer: Liz Jones, a narcissistic fashion journalist, a lifelong anorexic, a person who just spent £13,500 on a facelift, and a confessional columnist who charts her obsessions every week in the Mail on Sunday’s You magazine. If a further question was asked along the lines of “could there be anything worse than the simple fact of sending such an inappropriate journalist to cover a famine?”, the answer would have to be yes. Yes, she could use the occasion to berate the British NHS and the caring professions for not being caring “at all”. Apparently they failed to realise the fate of the starving Somalians rested on Jones being able to queue jump.

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