BEHIND THE STORY | Sense and sensibility


There are times when my sensibility gets in the way of being able to carry out my job as a writer, and there are times when it works for me. I’m constantly either pushing against it or allowing it, and then questioning myself afterward about whether I swayed too much one way or the other.

Specifically, I worry. I worry about the people I write about, especially when I’m writing about communities that have historically been underrepresented. I think a lot about privilege in my work, and how my access and/or gatekeeper status as a writer affects those communities. There’s a part of me that wants to be an ally, and that does play a role in how I cover things and what I cover, but I know that as a journalist I can never leave all objectivity behind. There’s a certain point — a line I have to draw where I have to use my best judgment and write what in my perspective is the truth, and sometimes not everybody is happy about that. 

I’m definitely in the camp of journalism that argues that transparency trumps objectivity, because if you set out to be objective, your values and worldview enter in the “back door,” as Leo Strauss would say. I do try to always be aware of that — of my own values and privilege and how they influence how I perceive things. At the same time, I’m writing for a general audience, and I have to be fair to all sides, even the ones I don’t agree with. I don’t believe in “balanced” journalism, because I don’t think it exists, but that doesn’t mean I think you can throw all objectivity out the window. 

It’s the worst feeling, to hear from people that I screwed up or was writing from a privileged perspective that I try so hard to fight against, but it happens — quite a bit, honestly. Over the years I have a thicker skin about these things, but I still fret endlessly about it.

Does it do any good, the hand wringing I do about how communities will react? Does it help my writing to beat myself up when I’m called out for writing from a privileged perspective? Maybe a little, maybe not. I doubt it’s the most emotionally healthy way to go about things, but that’s pretty much how I’ve managed to operate so far in my career.