Thursday, February 19, 2015

So many feelings

Huh! I wrote something that people seem to generally agree with. (It's my thoughts on feelings journalism - the long and edited version.) Good for my ego, bad for fueling a furious comment thread, but I can live with that.

Feelings journalism, to be clear, isn't when a writer offers up his or her own feelings in lieu of reporting. It's when a writer puts thoughts into the head of another person, real or imagined.

Now, I'm not an anti-feelings-journalism absolutist. Sometimes it *is* interesting to know what a journalist thinks someone else is thinking, or would think. If it's clear that we're in the realm of an author's imagination, if it's done carefully, it can work. (Again, the Wadler-ice-floe example.)

The problem is when the imagined thoughts are the story. Or: when the tone suggests more is known than is. Worst is when there was a specific person who might have been, but wasn't, interviewed. It definitely strikes me as worse if the imagined feelings are those of a real person (named especially, but also if it's just the guy sitting next to you on a plane, at a movie) than if it's a clearly invented person. (Ms. Ice-Floe.)

Perhaps that's what the unofficial rule should be - it's fine to speculate on the feelings of rhetorical constructions, but not of actual people. This is separate, then, from the question of what place, if any, rhetorical constructions should have in journalism. But the goal shouldn't be eliminating creative-writing, "Shouts and Murmurs"-type pieces - it should be making sure that they aren't posing as - or filling the role of - reported ones.

More on this later, maybe. In the mean time, I suppose what I'm saying is that I both get why people write these pieces and why such pieces get people so worked-up.

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