“I” and “Me” in business journalism is bad
Here’s an observation from a recent round of judging for the Society of American Business Editors and Writers’ latest “Best in Business” contest: A lot of submitted pieces in the news features categories used the first person. And right in the lead.
That was not the case just a few years ago. The first person was less prevalent and, if used at all, hardly ever in the lead.
Sure, the first person has always made an appearance here and there, usually in columns and general news, soft feature areas. But not so much in business stories, where the focus is typically on numbers, facts, and the opinion of outside experts (not the journalist).
In fact, many former reporters have some sort of tale about a crusty editor striking an “I” or “me” from their copy with a comment along the lines of “nobody gives a $%^&# about you.” Lessons learned.
The point was to report the “who, what, where, when, how, and why” of events, not the involvement of “me.” It follows the acid test of attribution order: what’s more important…what was said or who said it? Put that first.
Yet, looking at what many newspapers, websites, and magazines consider their best work in the SABEW contest, it seems the inclination against the first person is on the wane.
Sometimes that makes sense. Detailing how the information was obtained or under what circumstances it was given is important for the reader to know. “I was allowed to sit in on the board meeting” or “The documents were given to me under the condition there’d be no copying and no notes” are pretty critical elements regarding the journalistic conditions of a reported piece.
But the first person in other instances can seem self-indulgent or even egotistical; “When my elderly father handed me the IRS letter, I was flabbergasted” or “The movie star greeted me like an old friend and guided me to our table at Per Se.”
These are all hypotheticals, but representative of the kind of leads and asides that can be regularly seen in business reporting these days. And, sure, arguments can be made in their favor. The first-person narrative provides narrative or texture to the story, for instance.
But still, in many cases “I” and “me” could be left out and the story would be just as strong.
Has the ease of Internet writing made the use of the first person more common and, therefore, acceptable? Laziness? The TV side of the business has always been a little more persona driven than the rest…has that point of view bled over to media in general. (“And the CEO told OUR ANCHOR that the sky was blue”).
Maybe the churn in the news business means there’s a lack of crusty editors to tell the new crop of reporters that nobody gives a *&$# about them.
here’s always been ego in the news business. Every reporter checks first to make sure their byline is on a piece. But the wider goal of journalism is to inform. When that gets intertwined with self-promotion, well, you miss the crusty editors.
Allen Wastler is the former managing editor of CNNMoney.com and the former managing editor of CNBC.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.