Newspapers used to have these really cool fixtures called columns. Yeah, they’re still around — relegated, alas, to editorial and advice pages or surrendered to locals with scribblin’ dreams.
But back in the old days, reporters and even section editors proselytized on the regular. You’d recognize a column by its author’s wretched puss, dapper in a comely lampshade. Sometimes its tone was serious, sometimes it wasn’t. Some readers enjoyed it, others did not. Nevertheless, columns were vital to a clarion’s health, splashing it in color and keeping its own staff sane between sober dissections of double murders and flower shows.
About a decade ago, many of us abandoned columns for blogs. Foolish, yes, but they were too sexy to resist. Instant publishing! Immediate gratification! Unlimited space! Global exposure! Most attractive, however, was the chance to present the heartbeat behind the byline. Imagine, right? Perhaps relationships between a newspaper and its audience wouldn’t be so contentious if we engaged one another on a more personal level. Maybe we’d each realize that, deep down, we’re all just scrappers in search of elusive truths. The coveted olive branch we’d sought, at long last!
That, unfortunately, was utopian folderol. Sky-pie naivete. We’ve never found neutral ground. Probably never will. (To the public, we inkies are a desperate tribe, born at our desks, blank slates eager to lie and destroy.) Even worse, over the last few weeks, since we began posting blog links to our Facebook page more often, we’ve been besieged by such explosions as “What’s the point of this article?” “Why is this newsworthy?” Our readers have welcomed these diversions as they would a foreign invader.
First off, it’s frightening when someone can’t distinguish between a news article and a commentary, when the differences ain’t exactly subtle (“ain’t,” for instance, or “proselytized on the regular”). It’s the Internet, for Lee’s sake, a medium drowning in text. You’d think by now we’d have the comprehension skills of at least a comatose lemur.
Second, there seldom is a point, and rarely is it newsworthy in the accepted sense. Blogs are our sanctums, where we escape to be ourselves. We’re chroniclers out of uniform saying, “Hey, over here.” That this must be explained some 15-plus years into the blogging phenomenon is kinda ha-ha sad. Then again, our readers may want only news on double murders and flower shows, and care not a whit for the unrelated musings of its architects. To that I sigh, “Your loss.”
The Internet’s made our business a precarious one — not just economically, a conundrum we’ve wrestled since the mid-1990s, but in terms of identity, as well. For example, what are the parameters of a newspaper’s online “voice”? What’s the balance between professional and “personality”? I find it peculiar myself — sometimes even creepy — when corporations cozy up on social media and address me like we’re old pals on a beer run. Yet does the human touch really hurt in such communications? The Democrat-Herald is an august institution, but must it always be stultifying? Can’t it, on occasion, be charming and funny?
And now that we’re all under 24-hour watch, where we apparently represent our employers in perpetuity, what does this mean for us as individuals? Must we include fail-safe disclaimers on our Twitter/Facebook profiles lest a snort from our off-the-clock minds offend? Temper our opinions out of fear? Maintain separate accounts: one, a fusty robo-feed (“TEAM FRYE HAS VETTED THE FOLLOWING INNOCUOUS POST THROUGH A RIGOROUS APPROVAL PROCESS”), the other an unfiltered stream (“**** Trump in the ****-bubbled dead-center of his ****-lovin’ ****”)? Where does the reporter/editor end and the person begin, and why should the expectations of the former suppress the reality of the latter? At what point in our public, online or even professional existence are we allowed to be us: flawed, wounded, angry, passionate, happy, amused?
Look. Many of us became writers because that’s who we always were, from the womb to this very moment. It’s our primary means of expression. That we get paid for it is cool, but we cannot live by inverted pyramid alone. Sometimes we’ve gotta scrap the trappings and loose a cathartic scream. (Also, we’re like anyone else: We don’t wish to be defined entirely by our jobs.) And as luck would have it, we’re vainglorious enough to share.
That is the point. You’re welcome.