The Vancouver Sun’s Amy O’Brian is retiring her “Match Point” column for, amongst other reasons, more privacy. I can’t say I read the column regularly, but I think it’s a good move and hopefully a sign of times to come. Now that most everyone has a blog and what they’re bloggy about is real-life junk and relationship strife, do we need to continue to fill our newspapers with ever more Leah McLarens and Rebecca Ecklers?
The best and worst part of the Internet is its overwhelming democratisation of media. You can write stupid things on pictures of cats, inundate the world with your personal video diaries and keep a running log on every fight you’ve just had with your boyfriend. And so because we can write about ourselves in a way that is beyond self indulgent, we do. We fill endless pages with ramblings on our favourite breakfast cereal, what we loved about last night’s episode of Bones and why drunk texting is never a good idea. It’s the ideal forum for venting and relating, what with your audience so readily accessible. And again, the most redeeming quality of all this information porn is the fact that it’s not displacing anything more important or relevant, merely holding a spot somewhere in case you are so inclined to browse past.
So why, when newspapers are struggling to connect with audiences and find something to offer their readers that’s worth at least the 75 cents it costs to purchase, are they filling their pages with crap you can read for free anywhere? Most of these columnists address only the most ephemeral superficialities, covering what it feels like to giggle in hot yoga class or how annoying it is when your boyfriend brings a computer to bed. As women with editorial space in national newspapers they have an opportunity to educate, enlighten and at the very least entertain with their subject matter. But like the worst of recycled Sex and the City clichÃ©s, they just keep rambling on about shoes and chocolate, as if a tampon commercial were dictating their every move. No wonder both audiences and advertisers are dropping papers like a bad date–their lack of self-awareness is embarrassing.
When given the opportunity to go in a direction that affords readers access to the kinds of stories only a well-connected newsroom can obtain, they go with stolen puppies and retarded heiresses. Cute animals and gossip? That’s the whole reason the Internet exists, why try and compete with something so perfect? I would love to see the 500 words devoted to Leah McLaren’s oxygen facial go to an honest depiction of the housing crisis on the Downtown Eastside. Or how about giving us a fucking break with your goddamned kids, Rebecca, and writing something that has meaning beyond your ovaries?
With nearly everyone connected to media shouting on the rooftops about the changing face of journalism, newspapers should be heartily embracing the freedom these changes afford. Readers want news, they want to be informed and they are willing to pay for it if its well done. What they don’t want is another twenty-something writing about the effects of premenstrual bloat on her dating life, especially not if they just blogged that shit themselves this morning.
For all the worry about citizen journalism displacing the professionals it’s interesting to note that while the professionals are busy dissecting the latest trends in Mommy and Me pilates, citizen journalists are chasing stories on civic politics, international crises and government policy–on a third of the budget. If that’s an indication of the future of online journalism, then I say let our once revered newspapers go gently in to that good night and take those “lifestyle” columns with them.