Thursday, October 30, 2008

Blowfiles: Don't let this happen to your story

My BU students write profiles. One concept we struggle with is how to make sure the story is not what we crudely described in the newsroom as a BJ -- a story that casts the subject as flawless hero, not a human.

For my students, who are usually teenagers, this can be hard. I struggle with it on most profiles. But these young adults still defer to older adult authority. We all sometimes feel intimidated or charmed by the people we are writing about.

I tell them they don't have to finds some evil secret about their profile subject. But, a true profile will describe a person's failures as well as their victories, their blind spots as well as their insights. Ask -- Any regrets? Ever been fired from a job? What are your weaknesses? Who doesn't like them and why? Call old bosses and co-workers. If you're doing a teacher, check into

Lots of post-graduate entertainment industry journalists don't even bother. Phil Bronstien, VP and former executive editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, comments on it here. He knows a bit about celebrity. He’s in the middle of a child custody battle with his ex-wife, actress Sharon Stone.

I don't think arts profiles should be the same as investigations into political corruption. It's just that these kinds of pieces don't seem very, well, textured. They don't really tell me much about the subjects beyond the mythology. People are complicated and rarely just heroic. But real life context doesn't stir emotions the way heroic tales (of good and evil or, better yet, redemption) do.
If anyone, including me, bitches about the dirty laundry of celebrity tabs, look no further than the fawning nature of profiles in the mainstream press for the reason why tabloids are so popular. If we need our celebs to be gods and goddesses, we also need them to be like us AND fall on their dimpled asses, at least once in awhile.

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