One thing I was told repeatedly during my four years in journalism school was that my writing needed to be objective, above all else. In a field like journalism, where you are only supposed to be a vessel for the facts, I understood that my opinions were simply not relevant. That said, the landscape of journalism has changed enormously in the past few years alone, and that model of objective writing which was once germane, now runs the risk of outdatedness.
When I graduated with my degree in journalism in 2013, I took a vested interest in writing for online platforms. Around this time, I also noticed a rise in the popularity of confessional journalism platforms like Thought Catalog, for example, which is (as its name suggests) a website for writers to submit their general musings or thoughts about pretty much anything in the form of personal essays or other varying prose. For those of you not familiar with Thought Catalog, it runs just like any other submission-driven outlet; it has a publisher, a bevy of writers, and a submission model similar that of the Huffington Post.
When I first stumbled across Thought Catalog during my later years of university, I was shocked at what people were willing to share; it was like one big diary. I read about eating disorders, broken hearts, social anxiety, and unrequited affections. These were things that were relevant to me, above all else. All of a sudden, I felt a little more connected to my generation as a whole. The juxtaposition of these brutally honest articles against the picture-perfect posts from my friends on Facebook was jarring, but also comforting. Nothing on this site was written objectively; in fact the more personal the article, the better it was received by readers. This form of journalism heavily relied on a first person voice.
Many professionals in the field of journalism have argued that an “objective” voice is unattainable because no matter what you are writing about, you’re bound to have predisposed opinions or develop them as you research and write. Rosalind Coward, a working writer and the author of the book Speaking Personally: the Rise of Subjective and Confessional Journalism, supports this position. She argues that the personal voice, which is often disparaged in journalism teaching, is, and always has been important to the industry. In her book, Coward emphasizes that journalistic forms such as news features, opinion columns, and blogs, all require some degree of personal rhetoric.
The importance of having a strong and distinctive writer’s “voice” is inarguable, but I think more than that, writers today have to be able to connect and relate to their readers on a more personal level.
I’m a generational cliché in a lot of ways, but perhaps most defining is how I pretty much live online. I often opt to read the blogs of my favorite publications predominantly because blogs are easily digestible and easily accessible. But the main reason I read blogs is for the ‘personal touch’ they offer. I want to know people’s opinions because they help me to form my own. And I want to hear about a writer’s own experiences because I can often relate them to my own life.
This brings me to my next point: why the rise in the popularity of confessional journalism has been good for mental health.
There’s no shortage of spotlight on mental illness right now. By means of the internet, social disorders, mental disorders, and the general anxieties of our generation are being dissected and discussed constantly and in great detail. This constant conversation is snowballing into an increased awareness of mental health issues that used to have a quieter presence. Disorders like anorexia, bulimia, social anxiety, and depression, are all being discussed in ways that encourage a sense of community and widespread acceptance.
For those suffering from mental health disorders, the knowledge that they are not alone can be an invaluable tool in itself. Feelings of isolation and disconnect from friends and family are common byproducts of mental illness, but by ways of blogging and personal accounts, people who have previously struggled alone can now share their stories and reach out to others. And further, opening up a dialogue like this brings awareness to mental health and encourages people to ask questions and learn more.
A definite case for confessional journalism has to do with the accessibility of writers to their readers. With the rise of interactive online platforms, writers and readers have more opportunities to communicate with each other than ever before. Thankfully, more and more big publications like the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star, and Toronto Life are opening up their calls to include personal essays and memoirs; I like what this implies for the future of journalism and the rise of the non objective writer’s voice.
Zakiya has her degree in journalism from Ryerson University and currently works as a freelance content writer based in Toronto. Zak is a dedicated journal-er and enjoys writing and reading fiction, particularly science fiction, in her free time. Mental illness is something that has touched her life and the lives of her loved ones, so she is supportive of anything that brings attention to and provides new perspectives about mental health.