This month, Helen dissects literary theory and comes up with a parallel between Tom Wolfe and Mummybloggers. Discuss.
In May 1972, journalist Jack Newfield wrote a piece on the state of his profession. In The Village Voice, the late writer and Kennedy confidante set about tinkering with the moral compass of what was known as “new journalism”.
The piece — entirely worth your time and called Of Honest Men & Good Writers — appears as a featured archive item online. Forty years, almost to the day, after its initial publication, I read this article that urged a new set of ethics for a new rush of writing talent. It seems both wildly antiquated and terribly useful.
I happened upon the work just as a story about so-called “Mummy Bloggers” was breaking in local press. In the aging spirit of new journalism, I was unable to dismiss this coincidence and, in the bad habit of Hunter Thompson, set about drawing irresponsible and subjective comparisons between the two forms at the time of their origin.
Back in the day, just about everybody, including Tom Wolfe, agreed that “new journalism” was a silly name for the emerging practises. Similarly, the term “mummy blog” is useful to absolutely no one; least of all its practitioners, some of whom I am sure, must resent this infantilising description. This stuff is, after all, experience-based, intimate reporting. There should be no single thing called “mummy blogging” just, as Newfield argued, there should be no thing called “new journalism”.
As far as Newfield was concerned, creating new categories in nonfiction was misguided. “There is only good writing and bad writing, smart ideas and dumb ideas, hard work and laziness.”
It wasn’t the storytelling that was different. Good storytelling, in spite of what they might tell Communications undergrads these days, is good storytelling, whether delivered in longhand or Wordpress. Newfield wrote of what he saw as not so much a growing storytelling genre, but a diminishing concern for ethics.
Of course, I’m hardly the first to compare the blogging “revolution” with the new journalism; both types of intimate nonfiction are known to blur the professional with the personal. However, I may be the first to draw parallels between Tom Wolfe’s alleged moral depravity and a $50 gift voucher from Sussan.
In the piece, Newfield, a famous muckraker, singled out Tom Wolfe as a smart, lazy blaggard whose lack of concern for the truth was jeopardising journalism.
As Newfield said in The Voice, “The goal for all journalists should be to come as close to the truth as possible. But the truth does not always reside exactly in the middle. Truth is not the square root of two balanced quotes.”
Objectivity is impossible. There is no formula for the truth. It shocks me to think just how established but grossly unexamined these propositions, made at around the time of my birth, have become in what is now my profession.
But it doesn’t shock me half as much as the “ethical” debate among mummy bloggers and the readers detailed back in May in local press
The new journalism, or literary journalism or intimate journalism or whatever you’d like to call it, was characterised by what we all agree was an important shift away from the fiction that there is objective truth. Mummy blogging, by contrast, seems to be characterised by an important shift away from the truth of independently created nonfiction.
Mummy blogs, it is reported, are the most popular and monetized blogs in the nation. When news hit that some of the better known maternal writers had signed up with a “blogger talent agency” to build and manage their revenue streams, this newer New Journalism wrestled with its own emerging practise. The question wasn’t, as per Newfield, “how do we keep truth as our goal?” Instead, it was, “how much can we charge for a sponsored post?”
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