Writers On Writing / Acknowledging your position in a story with Benjamin Law

We chatted to Benjamin Law, ahead of his course Online: Writing Narrative Journalism, about putting yourself in the story and journalists he loves to read.

There’s an amazing history of narrative journalism uncovering, inspiring and entertaining to choose from. What are some stand-outs for you?

In terms of foreign journalists, I’ll read anything Ariel Levy and Susan Orlean writes. At home, Anna Krien, Jade Cadzow and David Leser set the standard. And Lech Blaine is a name everyone should start remembering. He’s super young, brilliantly talented and his journalism in the Monthly produces some of the most cracking feature stories that magazine has ever published. His debut book will be out soon. 

A lot of your writing starts with a personal interest or experience in the subject. How do you draw the line between narrative journalism and personal essay?

It borders on delusional for any journalist to convince themselves they can be absolutely impartial, objective and neutral. The fact most professional reporters in Australia are predominantly and disproportionately white, middle class and able-bodied already means there are inherent blind spots and biases – whether they recognise them or not. It’s both messier but more honest to acknowledge your position in the story, and sometimes that means putting yourself in the story. For me, the difference between journalism and essay is often the question you’re trying to answer in the work. 

Current public health restrictions are changing the way most of us work. Has it changed the process of writing for you? Or the type of writing that you are doing?

Besides the lack of travel, let’s just say working at my desk from home is quite familiar. Only thing I’ve had to get used to is my boyfriend doing it alongside me!

Benjamin Law is a frequent contributor to frankie, the Monthly, Qweekend and Good Weekend. He has written for over 50 Australian and international publications (including the Australian Financial Review, the Big Issue, Smith JournalSunday Life and Crikey) and has been anthologised in the Best Australian Essays twice. He is the author of The Family Law and Gaysia.

Join Benjamin Law for his course Online: Writing Narrative Journalism, starting Monday 15 June. Enrol now>>

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