Are Writers the Worst People Ever?

01/04/2013 1:18 PM |


I’d certainly like to think that they’re not—that we’re not. And I guess a lot of this is dependent on what is mean by “worst.” Are writers worse than Republican members of the 112th Congress? No, of course not. Nobody is worse than the Republican members of the 112th Congress. But are writers as bad as people who litter Instagram with far too many selfies and far too few pictures of puppies? Possibly. We are possibly that bad.

At least, we are that bad if you agree with Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan, who wrote a post titled “Journalism Is Not Narcissism” in which he derides the current state of media as one in which aspiring writers are encouraged to “to exploit every last tawdry twist and turn of their own lives for profit.” As ironic as it seems that this was written for Gawker—a site which recently posted Rich Juzwiak’s account of getting blown in a bathroom at a theme park—Nolan addresses Gawker and other publications’ culpability in promoting what he calls “writers as robotic insta-memoirists” for pageviews and, basically, money. He admits that “at their very best, they offer some amount of insight learned through experience.” But also thinks that “for the writers themselves, they are a short-lived and ultimately demeaning game…a path that ends in hackdom.”

Nolan was inspired to write this after reading a piece in the New York Times by journalism professor and memoirist Susan Shapiro, who routinely assigns her students to “write three pages confessing [their] most humiliating secret.” Shapiro feels that this “encourages students to shed vanity and pretension” and allows them to access…well, I don’t know exactly. Some greater truth? More lucrative book deals? It’s kind of unclear. I mean, I understand Nolan’s frustration with Shapiro’s insistence that a good journalist must be able to write embarrassing things about themselves. Potentially that can make for compelling memoir, but that doesn’t have anything to do with classic journalism, per se.