David Frum

01.02.13

Let's Chill Out on the First Person, Journalists

Hamilton Nolan delivers a much-needed dose of perspective for journalism's "me" generation. (NB: I'm totally guilty of much of what Nolan savages in his short essay.)

Left unsaid in most discussions of this sort of writing is the fact that most people's lives are not that interesting. Certainly, simple math will tell you that a 20 year-old has only a limited store of really compelling personal stories to tell. Most people who decide to base their writing careers on stories about themselves end up like bands that used their entire lifetime's worth of good material in their first album, and then sputtered uselessly when it came time for the follow-up. Sure, you can extract some thoughtful stories of humiliation from a college class. And sure, you can get some of them published. But that is not a career plan. Writing about yourself can be part of a balanced journalism diet, but it sure ain't a whole fucking meal. By plundering your own life for material, you are not investing in yourself as a writer; you're spending the principal. Soon, it will all be used up. There is nothing more painful to watch than a writer desperately grasping at ever less-important aspects of their own lives in order to make word counts, until they must simultaneously eat lunch and be writing about eating that lunch at the same time. It is the most small-minded interpretation of "journalism" there is. It is sad.