Oral Histories are All the Rage and Need to Stop

I blame Bill Simmons and Grantland for many things including the current trend of smug, middle-aged, white men from New England telling everyone with whom they cross paths that their opinion is the most real and relevant.  This is the exact mentality that allowed a flaccid cantaloupe to get himself elected president and move us one step closer to the literal apocalypse.

However, the thing that Grantland championed and that gets under my skin the most is the oral history.  What is an oral history?  Basically, take source material interviews and vomit the content all over the page as if that were “real” journalism.  It is the equivalent of a millennial dragging themselves out of bed on a Sunday to eat brunch with his bros.  It is lazy and useless.

Grantland would publish long, even for that site which is amazing because every article had to start with some blatant New England bro talk about the Patriots, Red Sox, or Celtics being the representative pinnacle of something, oral histories.  Somewhere along the way everyone thought this was the Popeye’s chicken of modern web journalism and jumped on the bandwagon.  Miss the Little Nicky reference?  Your loss.

Here is the rub: the format is lazy.  Journalism is about crafting a story.  Oral history is about keeping it real and unvarnished thus no editing.  Editing is the essence of good story telling.  Sit in on a creative writing workshop the first time that pretentious guy from down the hall gets told that his story needs to be tightened up.  It’s the right critique and it will make the story better, but he is an artist and his twelve hundred page manuscript about the family dynamics of eighteenth century herring fishermen will not be abridged by philistines.

In an era of fake news and alternative facts editing is critical.  If “journalists” just puke out interview text with no editing or commentary we might as well read the comments section of your favorite blog.  Isn’t that the ultimate evolution of an oral history?

Heck the format has even wormed its way into actual book length manuscripts.  Nothing says good times like reading two hundred pages of unedited interviews between multiple people switching at random.

Please do not feed the oral history beast.

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