It is personal

It is personal
: Journalism is getting personal.

I don’t mean personal as in long zoom shots of naked celebrities.

I don’t mean personal as in columnists using the first person a lot and telling us all about their lives (please, no, not that again!).

I don’t mean personal as in throwing barbs and insults at individuals.

I mean personal as in knowing the person who writes and knowing the person who reads. Personal as in having a conversation. Personal because — repeat after me — news is a conversation.

: Note the reaction to a post I wrote about potty parity for women in New York. I’ll admit I posted it mainly for the punchline. But the comments went wild. Why? Because this little bit of information touched people’s everyday lives. It’s personal. That makes it news. Compare that with other front-page news that day that did not get such reaction.

Now see blogger Lisa Williams’ reaction to what might seem like an odd post in my weblog, which is usually devoted to media, news, and politics [my emphasis]:

But if you really look at a site like Buzzmachine or Instapundit you will find that they include lots of topics that stray far afield from political punditry or media criticism. In fact, the closer you look the stranger it is to say that “this is a politics blog” or “this is a media criticism blog.” Why would a media criticism blog like Buzzmachine contain a post on potty-parity, or a technology blog like Doc Searls’ also contain so much about politics? Yet as we look at them these “unrelated” topics don’t seem to take away from the strength of the blog — they add to it.

Being human is not off-topic.

Blogs give you an opportunity to challenge this limited idea of what is important and to say, The rest of my life is important too. I am not a brain in a jar that emits 700 word screeds….

I also suspect that the general tendency of bloggers towards including personal commentary and “off topic” adventures makes the blogosphere a more polite place than either the mass media or Usenet.

: Right! Now look again at Dan Okrent’s surprisingly personal self-categorizing introduction to his constituency in the audience of The New York Times. See also the reaction to it in my comments. Dan says he doesn’t go to the movies much and this leads to a discussion about it: Poor Dan… odd Dan… maybe Dan watches videos. This isn’t celebrity; Dan’s no star. This is about a constituency (nee audience) craving a conversation with someone who represents them (which is, after all, what every reporter is supposed to do, right?). Dan’s essay got instant good reviews in blogs: See Roger Simon and Josh Chavetz and Tim Porter.

: This personal thing can go too far (see Bob Greene, Maureen Dowd, many a small-town columnist, and any local TV news person dieting for sweeps). What we’re interested in, media people, is not your lives; like Dan, you’re not celebrities. What we are interested in is your perspective, your bias, your baggage, your candor, your humanity. If you’re going to represent us in finding, reporting, and selecting the news — if you’re going to ask questions on our behalf — then we want to know who you are and what you’re about so we can better judge what you say. That’s part of the age of transparency. That’s part of the conversation that is news.

: And it so happens that a weblog is an incredibly effective vehicle for getting to know someone — not the only one, but a good one. Hell, I’ve gotten to know myself better here. Before your eyes, I turned from a pacifist into a supporter of military action to defend against and defeat terrorism and — as Okrent said well today — I, too believe that it is “inconsistent for those who advocate human rights to oppose all American military action.” You shouldn’t give a damn what I think except insofar as it colors my view of news on war; you have a right to know what’s behind the links and blathering I give you.

So Jay Rosen et al — and I — are still right to push Okrent to blog, for a blog will beat even his great introductory paragraph. A blog establishes a relationship with his constituency. And that, too, would set an example for other Timesmen and other journalists to realize their role in this new world of news.

News is personal. News is a relationship. News is a conversation.