Sally Brampton, who died earlier this year, won huge respect among the many WIJ members who were her former colleagues and friends. On October 11 WIJ held an event at the St Bride Foundation in her memory, on the theme of personal journalism.
Sally was the first editor of British Vogue and earlier worked as a fashion writer for Vogue and the Observer. She excelled at personal journalism, and later wrote an agony aunt column and memoir ‘Shoot the Damn Dog’ about her struggle with depression.
The WIJ panel in memory of Sally was chaired by former Independent on Sunday editor and WIJ committee member Lisa Markwell. She was joined by Louise Chunn, former editor of Psychologies magazine and founder of welldoing.org, the therapists directory and self-development, mental health and wellbeing website, Bryony Gordon, author of Mad Girl and Telegraph columnist, Rebecca Armstrong, features editor of the ‘i’ paper and columnist, and Kathryn Flett, a British critic, ex glossy magazine editor, star of the BBC’s Grumpy Old Women series, former Observer columnist and author of the memoir ‘The Heart-Shaped Bullet’.
The panel discussed extensively the difficulty in drawing the line between what’s personal and what’s public, and how to know if as Nora Ephron said, “everything is copy”.
They questioned how to protect yourself and those you are writing about. Louise Chunn said that as an editor and a reader she found personal stories moving and engaging, but as a human she would sometimes advise writers to be cautious. Lisa Markwell said she was always told “never read the bottom half of the Internet”.
They also discussed the impact of social media on personal journalism. Kate Flett suggested that “all social media is confessional journalism to some extent”; and the panel discussed what writers can do to differentiate their work from social media posts.
They talked about why personal journalism is disproportionately written by women. Bryony Gordon criticised the term “confessional journalism”, saying that “if men do it, it’s called art”.
Advantages of personal journalism:
- Revealing writing can help others, especially when you’re writing about health conditions or mental illness.
- Honest writing can help you get something off your chest.
- Readers respond more to personal stories.
- Personal stories can have more of an impact.
- Speak to the people you are writing about – for example friends and family members – and discuss how you work will be published.
- Make sure that you think about how you and others come across in your writing.
- Look after yourself and don’t leave yourself vulnerable.
- Realise that anything you write will be accessible online for years to come – also to employers.
- Be prepared for people to respond to your writing.
- Don’t feel you have to engage with comments on social media.
- Suggest your own headline to help avoid sensationalist spin on your work.
The event raised money for Mind, the mental health charity.
What are your tips for writing personal articles? Send us a tweet @WIJ_UK #Bramptontribute