Personal essays have become increasingly popular online over recent years – a trend that has been boosted by the covid-19 pandemic. Due to budget cuts, editors are keen to commission pieces that will pull in lots of traffic and maximise page views – and provocative personal stories with attention-grabbing headlines are perfect for capturing the readers’ attention.
As they allow journalists to draw heavily on their own experiences, personal essays can seem an attractive way to make money for those who are just starting out and do not yet have contacts in the industry. However, while such stories can be cathartic to write and generate great reader engagement, Italian freelance journalist Cristiana Bedei explains that these ‘incredibly intimate dispatches’ can pose challenges for editors and writers.
“It is especially difficult when many are penned by women and people from marginalised groups on the back of their systemic struggles and individual, harrowing experiences,” she writes.
Writing for the International Journalists’ Network, Bedei warns that “monetising the public airing of people’s lives — at least their most outrageous or terrible parts — could encourage an unhealthy mining of vulnerability while taking an emotional toll on writers and leaving them to deal with the consequences.”
For those considering writing their own personal essay, Bedei has asked experienced journalists to share their tips, including advice on pitching, setting expectations and creating boundaries.
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