It's Not About Lisa Bonchek Adams' Dying; It's About The Status of Journalists Dying.
This is partly what rubbed me the wrong way about Emma's piece, as she blithely asserted that "Adams' moderate following occupies a niche realm, consisting largely of cancer activists and those afflicted with the disease." In other words, Emma was saying, Lisa's story barely matters. It's niche. It's for people with cancer. But Emma is wrong. Adams' followers run the gamut, from literary stars like Dani Shapiro to, well, me. (For the record, I have found Lisa's tweets not too gory, and I often go searching back to her blog for details on how she is doing, health-wise.)
This is the greatness of social media: We will all become familiar with and therefore come to know parts of humanity that would never before have touched us. We can be egg-heady about it when we are writing long posts about the Arab Spring, but we must remember that the small stories really count, too. Whatever it is that knits us together is enormously powerful, and clearly a force for the good. That is, assuming we can agree that a world in which everyone feels witnessed and feels that they have some value to society is a world worth striving for.
I know, I know. This is very kumbaya of me. And it reminds me that was mocked—sometimes gently, sometimes less so—for being such a champion for ALL women when I was running Redbook magazine. It was de rigueur within my company to write off those readers of Middle America, who (they assumed) all clipped coupons and aspired to Coach bags and drove minivans. Editors were separate from, i.e. above, all that.
The fact is that professional journalists are SUPPOSED to assume a detachment, in order to keep a clear eye on what's a story and separate from one's biases. But detachment often becomes a one-way ladder to being above it all. And why not? In old-school media, editors are the chosen ones, the ones in fashionable clothes, the ones who get to decide who gets seen. You go to the best parties, you are sent every book before it comes out, you can get into any restaurant… Journalists are like celebrities, minus the 000,000s. It's easy to forget that your vaunted position comes to you because of your vaunted position.
And with the vaunted position can come the worst bias of all: that your own biases are a stand-in for everyone's, and that you can therefore both decide that something IS a story and also disparage it for being a barely a story. You can assume Old Journalism's entitlement to pronounce and judge, while also failing to also follow Old Journalism's long-held ethics, which were designed (imperfectly) to protect the people whose stories you got to tell.
This is how a piece like Emma Keller's can get published. Because when you are in the world wherein you get to set the agenda, it's only too easy to decide that others are very much not allowed to do that.