So, I’ve been absent for a couple of months because Real Life events have taken over (hopefully I’ll be able to share some of those with you in a little while) but this is a blog I’ve been meaning to write for a while.
Today we’re going to talk about confessional journalism, which seems to be gathering pace in the UK at least. But what is confessional journalism? Well, it’s a sort of cross between an opinion piece and a diary. Often they cover controversial topics, usually stories from the writers life, and they tend to cause quite a stir.
I was initially going to write this piece after I’m So Beautiful Samantha happened back in April, (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2124246/Samantha-Brick-downsides-looking-pretty-Why-women-hate-beautiful.html – I warn you though, it’s cringeworthy), but then Samanthagate happened, and I put it off for a while so it didn’t get swamped in the mire of similar pieces.
Now, I have no opinion on Samantha Bricks looks either way, she doesn’t do it for me, but then, who am I to judge. What really interested me though was the REACTION that the piece got, which is, I suspect, the main reason confessional journalism is so popular.
People all over the country were talking about Samantha Brick, much of it in unflattering terms, but still, they were talking about her, she was on TV, everyone, it seemed, knew her name. So, was writing that article such a bad idea when you want the readers, the exposure and people to be talking about you?
That’s the real question, isn’t it? Take writers like Liz Jones – you only have to read the comments on her online articles to see how her opinions annoy and infuriate readers. But they still read her work. It becomes this love hate relationship, and that, in the end, is what sells papers.
I’m torn on the issue of confessional journalism. On one hand I see it as a very clever means to stir up conversation and attract readers, on the other hand I see some of it as being extremely damaging. I’ve outlined some of the worst cases below.
Samantha Brick– I can hardly leave her out, can I? The issue with Brick’s work is not the quality of her writing (she seems fairly competent) but rather the bad advice and the glorification of bad situations that she gives out in her work. Yes, everyone seems to have read the I’m So Beautiful story, but when you look at her other writing you’ll see a very worrying trend. Titles include ‘Why My Husband Will Divorce Me If I Get Fat’ in which Brick talks about her gastroenteritis and how her husband was pleased because it meant she was loosing weight, and how being slim in her house was ‘an obligation.’ This alone is worrying, but when you read some of her other articles, where she talks about how her husband weighs her, dictates what she wears, how she gets her hair done, where she goes, if she works etc, then you would think that this was a woman writing about her abusive relationship (you’d be right), but Brick wants us all to think that her life is amazing and all women should bow down before there men and be dominated and abused. In my opinion the only think worse than domestic abuse is a woman who doesn’t know she’s being abused.
Brick’s controversial articles have landed her a lot of publicity (most of it negative), but I was willing to overlook all of that and see a woman who was crying out for help. Until I read her ‘Some Women Are Too Ugly For TV’ article where she got stuck into the absolutely lovely and wonderful Mary Beard (of the series ‘Meet the Romans’) for being ‘too ugly’ for TV, when surely the main point of the programme should have been the content and the learning, rather than how attractive the presenter was and how much cleavage she shows. Now, this attack was unfounded, Beard had done nothing to deserve it other than being an intelligent, thoughtful, enthusiastic and entertaining leader in her archaeological field who had the gall to be on television. Did she really deserve to be ridiculed in a national newspaper by someone else? No. Why should it matter what she looks like, it’s a programme about history and archaeology, not Babestation.
It’s this senseless attack of someone else, a stranger, based on stupid thing such as their looks, that bothers me. Is ridiculing others ever really okay? I don’t think so. It’s vindictive, evil and cruel, and while you might initially get readers, you have to remember that they are seeing you for what you really are – mean.
You can read most of Samantha Bricks articles here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/search.html?pageOffset=1&pageSize=&sel=site&searchPhrase=&orderBy=dateDesc&_channelshortname=on&_channelshortname=on&_contenttype=on&dateupdated=&dateFrom=&dateTo=&authornamef=Samantha+Brick&_authornamef=on
Liz Jones – I’ve been reading Liz Jones for a long time. I take all of her ‘articles’ as complete fiction, for the record. And I find myself reading the comments on her articles more than the articles themselves. She’s systematically attacked and put down pretty much everyone, from single mothers, working mothers, mothers in general, men, employers, employees, petrol station attendants, people who work too much, people who don’t work enough, people who look a bit odd etc etc etc.
For instance, I initially found my blood pressure rising when Jones wrote the line ‘I was glued to Rebekah Wade’s testimony to the Leveson Inquiry on Friday (I refuse to refer to women by their mercurial marital names).’
I mean, how dare she? Brooks CHOSE to change her name, just like many other women and men chose to do so every day. Who is Jones to decree what someone should choose to name themselves? It’s disrespectful.
Most recently Jones’ hate campaign has been directed towards women who have children. Apparently we are all lazy freeloaders who only had a baby to get a year off work. I don’t talk about my personal life much, but as someone who had a very successful science career and a surprise baby I found this deeply, deeply offensive. Not to mention my subsequent battle with PND which resulted in me having to leave my job eventually, shortly after the breakdown of my relationship. As a reader it annoyed me, but as someone with first hand experience of the situations Jones was talking about, I found that I was infuriated. I found that I was asking myself how a childless career women in her late 50’s can ever understand what it’s like to struggle with a young child, depression and poverty?
The key to the matter is that she doesn’t. And that’s the charm of the piece really. Once I detached myself and looked at it objectively, I could see that the whole article (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2143639/Rebekah-Brooks-Good-women-bosses-worn-work–babies.html and http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2056790/LIZ-JONES-MOANS-Maternity-leave-Its-just-holiday.html#ixzz1vQcJ0vNY) was little note than an attempt to get a reaction out of as many people as possible, get them talking, stir up debate and provoke a reaction. In their way, these are very clever articles, but does that override the damage they cause?
Take Clare O’Reilly – back in December 2010 she sparked outrage among health professionals, mothers, parents and pretty much everyone with an ounce of common sense when she decreed that not only was it fine to drink while pregnant, but that she is drinking quite heavily while pregnant ( full article here http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1338937/Why-I-enjoy-glass-3-wine-pregnancy-police-telling-Im-evil.html).
Now, I raise this matter because this is where ‘confessional’ journalism is dangerous. Just like Brick, this is another example of writers displaying their own problems and behaviours as being not only normal, but acceptable.
But what about the writers themselves? Can you ever be taken seriously again after you admit to stealing your husband’s sperm? Probably not. And this is where I feel that confessional journalists are thrown to the wolves by editors looking for sensationalism and debate. The majority of these writers are women of a certain age, and the idea, I suppose, it to show the everyday thinking and experiences of a typical women. But what it really does is to throw all their crazy out there for the whole world to see.
As much as they infuriate and baffle me, I have a sort of respect for confessional journalists – anyone willing to put themselves out there like that, laid bare, clearly has balls of steel.
Or perhaps, as I personally think, have serious insecurity problems and are being driven by the need for attention and unscrupulous editors.