Teachers-Pick Reflection for Week 4: NYT Editorial

Hi Folks,

This NYT Editorial , in addition to being impressive simply because it’s so eloquently written by two high-school journalists, brings up an important question: What is the difference between reporting on depression, and writing about one’s own struggles with it? I think this article gets at the pro’s and con’s of both. As the authors put it, writing about depression is both therapeutic and compassionate. They claim that “the feeling of being alone is closely linked to depression. This can be exacerbated if there is no one to reach out to. Though there are professionals to talk to, we feel it doesn’t compare to sharing your experiences with a peer who has faced similar struggles.” In short, writing about your struggles can help you, and then even better if someone reads your work and can identify with you. On the flip side, I cannot recommend this Slate Article highly enough. It addresses the recent explosion of first-person essays, and cautions against “the new first-person economy: the way it incentivizes knee-jerk, ideally topical self-exposure, the hot take’s more intimate sibling.” This isn’t a criticism of the essayists — in fact, this piece is more concerned with the potential dangers of having to expose one’s personal travails in order to get published. My question for you, then, is this: Is being quoted by a journalist the same as writing about yourself? A journalist might be able to bring in more context, more statistics and more “objectivity,” but is the act of writing in and of itself what depressed individuals need the most. Personally, I’m in favor of reportage, but I’m very interested to hear what you all think.

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7 Responses to “Teachers-Pick Reflection for Week 4: NYT Editorial”

  1. I do not think that being quoted by a journalist is the same as writing about yourself. As you said, a journalist can add many aspects to an article, like statistics or context, to give the reader a better understanding of the topic at hand. However, a journalist will not present the interviewee the same way that he would present himself. When writing about yourself, you are able to show your audience the version of yourself that you want them to see. You are able to share your thoughts and feelings in a way that a journalist cannot. The result can be a piece that is more intimate and personal, even if the lacks the statistics or context that a journalist may provide.
    There are positive aspects of reportage as well. A journalist can frame the interviewee’s quotes to make them more interesting and readable. He or she can also incorporate research or other interviews that augment the original interviewee’s material. I think that both have advantages and disadvantages, and it is up to the author to decide which works best the story he or she wants to share. With a mental illness like depression, the interviewee is often the only one who understands what it is like to have it. However, he or she may struggle to express themselves and make their story compelling. A journalist can add context to make it more interesting and may be able to reach a wider audience.

  2. I think there is a difference between being quoted by a journalist and writing for yourself. A journalist always has some unique lens through which he/she views the topic, and attempting to cast a story in a certain light inevitably leads to a slightly different version of the original, authentic story. This difference might be created by word choice when framing quotes, in deciding which quotes to include or leave out, or even in the photographs chosen, and the feelings that these convey. On the other hand, when writing a personal story, even if the author does have a specific message to impart, the story will read differently if the author’s agenda is simply to communicate his/her experience.

    Much of journalism, it seems, relates to the idea of personalizing and humanizing the stories often lost in the sea of statistics. Reading that x% of young adults battle depression is not as powerful as attempting to understand how depression afflicts an individual, such as Kathryn Dewitt. In this sense, I think that journalism can be very important in this regard, in its power to connect an individual experience that sparks empathy and emotion in readers, to the overall statistics that communicate why such a story represents a larger, serious trend.

    Finally, I think it is important to consider the author’s purpose when comparing journalism to more personal or biographical pieces. An individual writing about his/her experience with depression may not have a larger agenda, and may be using writing as a therapeutic tool to overcome stigma and silence. Such a story may not have the same effect as a journalistic expose on the topic that compares several stories and includes statistics. For this reason, it is important to consider the criteria by which one evaluates a piece of writing, and in doing so should ask whether the piece fulfills its specific purpose.

  3. I think there is definitely a difference between writing about yourself and having someone else do it. Although a journalist will be more objective and make sure that their personal opinions are not in the article, I think sometimes those personal experiences and feelings are really the most important. A journalist does not know exactly how a person is feeling and so those emotions will be lost in the context of an objective article about depression. The only person that knows what it feels like for them is the person experiencing the depression and I don’t think anyone else can truly represent those feelings on paper.

    I think also for someone who is depressed, if they choose to get their story out there it will be primarily to show other people who are depressed that there is hope or that they are not alone. This may be a much stronger message coming from the actual person who is feeling depressed. It is very easy for people to put up an act and to seem entirely fine, but not actually be. It becomes up to that person what they want to share and how much truth there is to what they are saying. I think it could be therapeutic for someone to write about their struggles, however, I am unsure of if people will have a harder time telling the truth and being open about how they feel if they know the words will come from someone else and their name will be attached to the public article. I believe for the argument of it being therapeutic that just keeping a personal journal will be a reasonable way to express those feelings in a more private setting, however, everyone is different and needs different methods of dealing with events in their lives.

  4. Hi Giancarlo,

    I think this is a great question. In my opinion, I think there are similarities and differences between writing about yourself and being quoted by a journalist.

    I agree with some previous comments made that a journalist has a specific framework they work off of – this may easily lead to representing someone’s story unauthentically, and in a way that they would not want to be represented. However, I think the same can go with writing a story about yourself – you may not know how you want to represent yourself. As Chenier in the Slate article describes, she herself didn’t realize how much she was putting on the line even though initially, “she’d felt so strongly that it was worth the risk”.

    I also agree that a journalist might be able to bring in more content, more statistics and “objectivity” as you described. However, a person writing about her/himself could do the same. Something to keep in mind is a journalist may have personal connections to a topic that makes him/her not as “objective”; just as much as a person writing about her/himself.

    On another note, the Slate article you introduced was great. The concern introduced by the article about the potential dangers of someone revealing a difficult experience, I think, aligns well with the NYT Editorial. I think there can be a lot discussed when it comes to the pros and cons of the high schoolers writing a story about themselves, and Chenier’s story takes note of what some cons could look like.

    Thanks for your post!

    Yumi

  5. Hi Giancarlo,

    You raise a very important question that is especially pertinent to our generation. I definitely think there is a difference between writing about yourself and being quoted by a journalist, but want to pose a different opinion than some of the other responses.
    I agree that each type of writing presents a different angle on the issue (objective vs. subjective) and each style has different implications for the writers. But ultimately, I would argue that it comes down to the difference between creating awareness (journalists) and using the power of the personal narrative to create a sense of community (writing about yourself).
    For a journalist, I believe the purpose of using personal testimonies is to appeal to the audience’s emotion. The facts and statistics don’t mean much to the reader until that moment when the reader sees the relevance to their own life and might think, “Maybe I’ve overlooked this issue and it could be affecting my own friends and family”.
    To contrast, writing about yourself is often used to create a sense of community. In the NYT Editorial piece the authors expressed their concerns that “with so many teenagers dealing with depression, it was still addressed in such impersonal ways.” I agree that there should be more avenues to open the dialogue surrounding mental health, but I’m not sure that media is always the best place for this.
    When the media’s motive is often (but not always) to get the best story, I believe the personal stories don’t necessarily receive the support they deserve.

    Thanks for your thought-provoking question!

    Caitlin

  6. Giancarlo,

    You bring up very interesting points in your blog post, and I must admit that I also found myself wondering where the line lies between self-reporting and reporting about others. When people write openly from the heart and speak freely about their experiences, it is hard to imagine someone taking away that freedom from them. As a journalist it is challenging at times to completely gain entrance into someone’s most personal and heart-wrenching thoughts, but is this the ultimate goal? Although this can be done by some of the best journalists in the field, it takes practice and experience to be able to do this compassionately and correctly, and is this our purpose as journalists? To uncover the most tantalizing and exciting tribulations of someone’s life? I would say in many ways, yes, of course; however, I also believe that we have a duty as reporters to create stories that many can relate to and understand, while at the same time protecting the well-being of the interviewed persons.

    Although I believe having a person with depression write about their most personal stories, triumphs, and tribulations in public spheres is a powerful healing mechanism, I also feel that there can come a point where the story might be too personal for the general public. At times the shock factor of a story can take away from the message that the writer is trying to convey. There will be readers who can resonate with these writers, I am sure, but the audience as a whole might finish the article and be more transfixed with the personal story of the writer and not as concerned with the issue being described. Therefore, I believe that these stories do have a place in the news world, but at the same time, we should be careful of the context of the story and who the audience will be. There need to be more outlets for people with depression and other mental health conditions to write and be heard. It is also the job of the journalists to cover these topics and help the public understand that not only are these stories real and personal, but also meaningful to all of our lives, not just the person who the story is about. I believe there is a fine line indeed.

    Thank you for the post.

    -Jaclyn

  7. I think that writing about your own experiences and having your experiences shared can both be cathartic to an individual struggling with depression. Having your story shared certainly has the potential to increase feelings of solidarity and even perhaps to help network with others that are struggling with similar problems. Journalism, I believe has the capacity to do this, though, as is so boldly pointed out in the second article, may choose only the most traumatic stories to publish. As a bit of an introvert, I think to me this would feel daunting and exposing, though I can understand the appeal to more extroverted individuals.

    Writing a personal story offers different benefits that are not necessarily attached at all to sharing your experiences with others, furthermore, I agree that the act of writing can be therapeutic in itself. The amount of exposure given to personal writing is certainly easier to manage, this allows the individual to decide whether they would prefer to hide their notes in their closet, share a secret blog with a few friends, or send it to a specifically targeted community. The benefit of this to me is that the range of responses may be both more limited and more supportive. I’ve always found that types of individuals who comment at the end of articles such as these have a tendency to be crass… just the sort of response that I believe could make an emotionally unstable person on edge. I find that one harsh statement can have the incredible ability to wipe out a flood of positive ones, and that in this instance journalism is much more likely to facilitate harsh reactions than personal writing is.

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