The War on “I”

point of view

Screenrant.com, a popular entertainment news site that focuses primarily on TV and movie content, is hiring. They’re looking for freelance writers to work on a per article basis, writing about entertainment news in the TV, movie and even gaming industries. All in all it’s a very formal and professional want ad, especially for Craigslist, but there’s one key requirement that raises an eyebrow.

The following comes as an implicit caveat under “Application process” just after they ask for two written samples:

“We cover news with an editorial slant – meaning that once we report the news, we explain why it matters to our readers without resorting to bloggy “I” opinionated approaches.”

This is a completely reasonable request that any writer should expect when applying to write for a major publication, but it also unfairly disqualifies the work you see on this site without ever taking a second to really assess its quality.

Journalism and English teachers the world over condemn the use of “I”. It’s looked at as unprofessional, an easy perspective to write with that requires little-to-no effort, and they’re not entirely wrong. Writing in first person is much easier and often takes a lot less creativity than writing with restrictions, but to discredit someone’s work simply because they use the perspective to connect with readers on a natural, informal level is borderline disrespectful.

The real issue here isn’t with the requirement. They want to ensure prospective writers can in-fact write within their site’s guidelines, keeping a uniformed tone and feel across a stable of talent. However, an editorial by definition is an opinion piece. Saying your content focuses on an “editorial slant” just before deriding first person perspective as a “bloggy ‘I’ opinionated” approach is laughably ironic if not outright hypocritical.

The war on “I”, or the bloggy “I” opinionated approach, has been going on for decades. It’s largely accepted in the journalism community as being massively faux pas to write in first person even when you’re writing an subjective piece. No one questions the rule and budding journalists quickly turn up their noses at anyone who chooses to write with the style, but is it not an outdated rule of thumb from a bygone era?

Print media is dying for a reason and it’s not just because the internet magically sprang into existence. The internet itself didn’t spontaneously start providing content similar to The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. It didn’t just change the medium through which news content is delivered, it changed news content itself. People flocked to blogs and forums to get their information through less formal means, opting for a more personal experience over what print media had to offer.

Readers’ tastes are constantly evolving and now they’ve chosen to live the best of both worlds. Blogging may be just as dead as print media, but many outlets now flirt with the line between objective news coverage and utilizing the bloggy “I” opinionated approach, choosing to write with an “editorial slant”.

That being the case, should you really discount someone’s portfolio of work just because they use “I”? Should an article like “KotOR 2: A Study on Rushed Development” be overlooked simply because it utilizes first person even though it also smoothly transitions into a formalized style? Is this dismissive war on “I” really warranted?

I don’t think so. I believe the mass majority of readers would actually find a freer use of “I” a little refreshing. I think people would be more forgiving of subjective slants if sites/publications were more upfront about their inherent subjectivity.

But what do I know? Maybe I’m just upset because I’m going to lose out on a job I feel incredibly qualified for just because I use “I”. I’d love to write for Screenrant.com, even if it was on a freelance case-by-case basis.

Let’s be honest though, my application probably won’t even warrant a response. All because of the word “I”.

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