Journalism must include personal narratives

Emma+Vaughters+%7C+Layout+Editor

Emma Vaughters | Layout Editor

Apoorva Verghese, Intersections Editor

When I first began to consider journalistic writing, I was hesitant because I didn’t think I’d be able to adjust to the style. I’m someone who prefers to write about my life and personal experiences, so I wasn’t sure that there was space for me in the objective world of journalism. 

As someone from a marginalized background, I’ve always believed that people need to have a platform to express their unique perspectives and lived experiences.  I’m also aware, however, that letting my marginalization cross over into my writing is considered a misstep in journalistic reporting. Speaking on my experiences would essentially void my writing of any objectivity, and consequently, any validity. I know I’m not alone in my thinking. 

News writing has always been dependent on factual, objective reporting. I know people who have been disillusioned with journalistic reporting after being told that they’re too emotional or biased to write objectively. More specifically, that they were too emotional to write about the “truth.” 

Personal narratives, and really any form of narrative journalism, have been rejected under this paradigm of objectivity. The idea of solely objective journalism is something that I, like many others, have subscribed to for a long time. Nevertheless, the idea of objectivity in reporting has insidious implications that we sometimes don’t realize. 

It’s important to consider the various underlying issues in the institution of journalism right now. 

A lack of diversity and narrow focuses for marginalized writers, such as Black writers being told to cover only Black experiences, are just a few examples of how journalism has consistently favored privileged writers. 

Issues of objectivity, however, are perhaps the root of all these issues. Objectivity always centers on a certain type of knowledge — typically white, privileged knowledge — as universal and default. 

There is no such thing as true objectivity in journalism. Objectivity is just a way to further perpetuate whiteness as normative and everything else as Other. Consequently, marginalized writers are essentially silenced as they’re unable to write in opposition to this default system. 

For example, at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Black reporters were prevented from writing about anti-racist protests because they were seen as biased. When just being Black is enough to lack objectivity, we should interrogate the validity of the journalistic framework itself. 

The type of objective journalism that we tend to see today cannot adequately encompass lived experiences because it explicitly rejects that story. The perspective that comes with narrative journalism can’t be boiled down into neutral, factual statements. 

Additionally, by maintaining a stringent air of objectivity, journalists can’t properly criticize dangerous institutions without being seen as biased. 

Now more than ever we need to be considering journalism as a platform for personal narratives. Using personal narratives is a way to combat certain harmful journalistic practices as well as sociopolitical issues. 

Just looking at the Tulane community helps us understand how we’ve been suppressing certain important narratives, and how important these narratives are. As social media accounts such as Black at Tulane emerged, so many stories of discrimination on campus came to light. These are narratives that wouldn’t be accommodated in the traditional role of objective journalism but are nevertheless crucial to listen to. 

When I eventually began writing personal narratives for various media outlets, I didn’t feel like a bad or fake journalist. I was still writing the truth. It just wasn’t a truth based on oppressive structures. It was my truth and one for millions of people like me. 

The inclusion of narrative style is a powerful way to relay to readers what it means to live the experiences we report on. 

Narrative journalism is not just a style that we should become more accepting of. It’s something that we urgently need in journalism today.