Suzanne Moore on Liz Jones’ new book

I’m not sure if ‘hatchet job’ is the right way to describe Suzanne Moore’s brutal takedown of Liz Jones’ new book ‘Girl Least Likely To: 30 Years of Fashion, Fasting and Fleet Street’.

It’s more like a diagnosis, or even an intervention. Perhaps if your journalistic stock-in-trade is confessing your personal pathologies, then you invite a critical response like this – focusing on anorexia, self-hatred, unacknowledged anger, narcissism.

Confessional columnists sell themselves as ‘truth-tellers’ – people who aren’t afraid to put it out there. But as Moore says of Jones, ‘The truth she sells is that you can monetise damage if you are clever enough.’

There’s been a bit of anti-Moore stuff online, saying that she misrepresents anorexia and/or that she should be more compassionate to someone who’s mentally ill… Though if you really follow that line of argument, you should end up pointing the finger at the editors at the Mail who sell papers/generate page views from giving Jones a regular platform for her self-loathing.

As Moore says:

It is well known that the Daily Mail gets women to write its most misogynistic pieces. Jones, I feel, always worked well for them as an example of the dread “career woman”: you end up childless, having endless “procedures”, living in a barn with cats, bats and raddled horses

The latest version of this kind of thing would be Samantha Brick, I guess.

Journalism today

Found on Worldcrunch – Jonas Pulver on Dan Rollman’s social media prank. Not sure about the attempt to draw links between that and po mo art. But I thought this quote was interesting.

In the 21st century, most journalists do not create content anymore, they are more like curators, like those guys at the Pompidou Museum who write the explanatory notices on artworks. Nowadays, the world of media is expanding in multiple directions, becoming faster and volatile as any user can share information through networks.

 

Consequently, the added value of journalism not only lies in the (verified) facts, but now also depends as much on how they are connected to each other, put into perspective. Being critical about the facts is now as important as reporting them – in content as in form alike. In a nutshell: journalism has become postmodern.

Tim Carmody on what’s good about Malcolm Gladwell’s journalism

Malcolm Gladwell has come in for a lot of criticism over the last couple of years – for a variety of reasons, I suppose:

  • He just got too over-exposed – or rather, lots of people started trying to do his thing – and didn’t do it as well as him
  • Perhaps he has also suffered a bit because, in a way, he’s a kind of personification of Ted-ism – and there is a backlash against that at the moment
  • People really didn’t like his piece on Twitter, social media and revolutions and political activism
  • His last book was the closest he’s come to what he’s always being accused of – business guru/management theory.

Of course, the thing about Gladwell is that the best things he does are the essays/features for the New Yorker. When he does a book, he, or his editors, push a larger story/provocative angle. That doesn’t always allow Gladwell to do what he does best – which is investigate and play around with new ideas/research – often about something hugely popular/taken for granted/kind of ubiquitous.

Tim Carmody does a great job of detailing the many strengths of Gladwell’s journalism in the latest addition to Nieman Storyboard’s Why’s This So Good series (as well as coming up with a good reason why Gladwell’s piece on Twitter (Small Change) didn’t work.) Riffing on Gladwell’s New Yorker piece on ketchup, Carmody starts with a list of things Gladwell does well:

  • He’s quotable, but also ‘paraphrasable and anecdote-able’ – I guess the point is that he’s great at packaging up intriguing facts in a form you can pass on in some form.
  • He’s good at stories that identify something counterintuitive (in a way, this is what lots of journalists try to do – few do it as well as Gladwell.)
  • He’s a ‘master of misdirection and the slow play’ – he weaves different strands, A stories and B stories and other disparate threads into an open exploration of a topic or idea – Carmody calls them ‘intelligence games’ and says that, at their best, they don’t come with ‘business-retreat-ready takeaways’, which seems right to me.

There’s loads to think about in the piece – one of the best in this series – but the last point might be the most interesting in terms of long form journalism. I guess one of the reasons people (writers and readers) are drawn to long form is that they’re looking for journalism with narrative complexity and depth; they want to read factual stories that do a better job of reflecting reality than the standard inverted pyramid formulaic storylines journalists usually serve up.

The problem is, long form journalists’ model of complex narrative is, for the most part, the nineteenth century novel (Tom Wolfe is the grand-daddy of this approach – Michael Lewis is, I guess, the leading modern practitioner).

But there are lots of other sorts of narrative journalists could work with – not just traditional realism. There are other novelistic approaches they could adapt. And approaches from other media. For example, the complex multi-level narratives of modern TV drama, with A, B and C storylines. One of Carmody’s points is that, among all the other clever things Gladwell does, this mixing of multiple storylines is a key part of what makes his work distinctive.

It’s definitely a point worth making. When Gladwell was being profiled everywhere, he was praised for the ideas in his pieces – all that stuff from social psychology etc. And that’s fair enough. But perhaps he hasn’t had enough credit for his craft too. Or his way with a story – or stories.

Rob Walker – Cyberspace When You’re Dead

Just realised that the Penelop Umbrico image of multiple sunset pics, aggregated/assembled from Flickr, which I posted yesterday, was from ‘Cyberspace When You’re Dead’, the New York Times, Sunday Magazine piece by Rob Walker. And that I’d already blogged it on my dormant Tumblr, a year or so ago, when I was going through a brief phase of tracking this kind of thing.

Four Types of Journalists

I like this post from Matt Thompson at Poynter about four types of journalists – the storyteller, the newshound, the systems analyst and the provocateur. I think it might help students understand what type of journalism they like and what type of journalist they want to be. In fact, it might help them a bit better than the standard approach – which tends to focus on platform – i.e. print, radio, TV, online, magazine etc.

I wonder if getting people to do the Myers-Briggs personality test, as Thompson did at Poynter, might help students think a bit about group work too… Might be a difficult sell.

By the way, I think I’m part storyteller, part systems-analyst – though I might try to kid myself occasionally that I’m a provocateur…