How much “I” is TMI? That’s the question Jacquelyn Gill and I are posing at our ScienceOnline2013 session this Saturday. When Jacquelyn first posted the idea on the conference planning wiki sometime last year, I was intrigued. She was coming at it from a scientist’s perspective; wondering, for instance, “What are the advantages or disadvantages of ‘professional-only’ interactions online, versus personal ones?” But I was interested as a journalist. As I wrote then,
How much opinion is too much? As more of us are likely to be jumping between different media — magazine features (where voicing a point of view is crucial), newspaper articles (where “objectivity” is the rule), blogging/Twitter (where I, for one, tend not to hold back–but keep my subject matter pretty narrow), etc — I think it’d be great to talk about how to strike a balance, remain true to your voice, and not have what you do for one outlet come back to bite you in the ass at another.
Many of us struggle with how much of ourselves to put online. As a freelance journalist, I write for dozens of different publications, which want varying degrees of my opinion. When I write science articles for The New York Times, I like to think my voice comes through in the storytelling; but though the pieces are features, they’re relatively objective. They’re not making an argument. They’re presenting the facts, albeit according somewhat to my interpretation, and in what I hope is my recognizable voice.
But magazines, on the other hand, want me to take a stand. When they commission a story, they’re also paying (in part) for my point of view. That needn’t involve writing in first-person, but it does mean putting more of myself on the page, and attracting the ire of readers who disagree.
Then there’s blogging and Twitter and all the rest of it. What goes where? If I really must rant about something, where to do it? Is there ever value to a public rant?
Last year, I blogged about my frustrating experiences with women’s magazines. I’d decided to hell with it—if editors didn’t want to hire me after my post, so be it. In fact, several editors contacted me afterward asking me to write for them, so I think the extra dose of “I” may have actually helped in that case. But I was aware of the risk.
But what about other situations? Lately, I’ve been on a bit of a mission to make writing contracts more writer-friendly. Many writers, especially those who are new to it, assume the only thing to do with a contract is sign and date it. But contracts are often negotiable. And the more people who contest unfair clauses, the better it is for all writers. So how much of a rabble-rouser should I be? Is tweeting or blogging about contracts too far afield of my subject matter as a journalist? Or perfectly appropriate given my status as a journalist?
I’m looking forward to a fun discussion. If you’re at Science Online, stop by and chat with us on Saturday afternoon. Or follow along on Twitter: #themeinmedia.