A piece on Gawker.com, “Journalism Is Not Narcissism,“ should be required reading in journalism schools. Excerpts:
Every year, thousands of fresh-faced young aspiring journalists flood our nation’s college classrooms, in order to learn how to practice their craft. What should we tell them? This, first: journalism is not about you.
Susan Shapiro, an author and college journalism teacher, has a piece in the New York Times in which she explains that her “signature assignment” for her students is to write an essay confessing their “most humiliating secret”—when asked why, she replies “Because they want to publish essays and sell memoirs.” This confessional is good practice for launching all of these 20 year-olds on careers as 21 year-old memoirists and “Modern Love” columnists.
The extent to which we train a generation of young writers to become robotic insta-memoirists is the extent to which a generation of stories from the wider world does not get told. The real tragedy of journalism-as-narcissism is not the general pettiness of the stories it produces; it is the other, better stories that never get produced as a result.
Why am I writing about this on a site that focuses on health care journalism? Because we see many stories by health care journalists reporting about themselves. They are often imbalanced, incomplete, non-evidence-based stories. Is this narcissism? I don’t know. I’m not a psychologist nor a psychiatrist. I’m only an old hack journalist. MayoClinic.com defines narcissistic personality disorder as “a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for admiration.” Whatever you call it, we think such practices should also be reviewed more thoroughly in journalism school ethics discussions and in newsrooms – starting early and repeating the reminders often.
We realize that some of the physicians involved in the physicians-as-journalist examples did not go to journalism school and may not have been thoroughly briefed by their employers on fundamental journalism ethics.
Meantime, for an entirely different view on the narcissism column that we addressed at the top, see Steve Buttry’s post, “Journalism isn’t narcissism, but it’s not machinery either.” And there are many interesting comments left after Buttry’s post and after the original Gawker post.
ADDENDUM ON JANUARY 15: Please see my followup, “First person health care stories not always narcissism – and can be a public service,” with some examples provided – quite different than the examples above.
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