Does personality have a role in journalism?

Posted: April 13th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: journalism | Tags: , , , , | View Comments

transparencyOne of the things I love about Twitter is how easily it allows users to quickly create a dialogue with the community. For journalists, it’s a casual way to solicit opinions, sources, feedback — anything of value, really, from the community they cover.

Twitter, even more than blogs, has been extremely effective at breaking down the wall that has existed for so long between the readers and the news gatherers, and I think it strengthens the community’s sense of trust in whoever it is they are following. That’s because the audience begins to realize that the journalist is, in fact, a person and a member of their own community (hopefully).

But Twitter creates a problem many old-school journalism professors warn students about — it lets personality show through writing. The old ideal — the concept of “fly-on-the-wall journalism” — dictates that journalists should be a bit like monks, declining to react to what they observe.

This, at times, leads to disastrous results.

It’s an effort to maintain objectivity, a commitment to working toward finding a practical truth (Notice the italics: Calm down philosophy majors).

Over at TechCruch, Brian Solis mused over the weekend about how the “statusphere” might save journalism. Some of the best journalists, he says, have taken to delivering their content directly to their audience in addition to interacting with them. His central thesis is this:

Personality + Insight + Promotion + Interaction = Visibility and Community

I think I agree with that. I’ve never been one who believes journalists should pretend they aren’t part of their community.

But I guess I haven’t always felt like that. I recently stumbled on something I wrote for the N.C. State Alumni Magazine back in 2006.

At the Technician, I’m just a byline. I’m the name my readers skip over as they move on to the photos, stories and, way more often than I’d like, the crossword puzzle. In fact, if I’m lucky, my readers won’t talk about me or my writing at all. If I’ve done my job, it’s the issue they’ll discuss, and the emotions and comments that follow will relate not to the way I write my story or the competence of the Technician‘s editors, but to how this information affects their lives.

That attitude seems like the right one — at least in my gut. It’s a bit unrealistic, but it seems like the thing to work toward.

But I think the danger is that readers may sometimes interpret that monk-like disinterest, even when it’s done well, as uninterest. That can make a reader feel disconnected, and that disconnect has translated into major problems from the news industry.

What do you think? Should we continue to persue stone-cold objectivity? Or should we strive to connect on some level with our readers? Is there a way to balance both?