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Are Journalists Allowed to Be Fans?

tuenight judgy caroline waxler turn
tuenight judgy caroline waxler


When I was starting out my career in the ’90s working as a business journalist, the rule was always be in the background of (and not part of) the story. The first-person voice-y thing was for the columnists — and if you were doing that and weren’t one, you were clearly a novice reporter in her first weeks on the job. Worse, if you were a fan of a subject’s work or their mission, showing your hand beyond a detached view of why their company might be good for society — or, really, shareholders — was a nonstarter.

This went double if you were a person in her ’20s covering complex topics. Note that this was before the ubiquity of blogging and disruption. The old order reigned, and it didn’t exactly revere lack of years of experience and naïve exuberance. In turn, neither did I. #Judgy

This worldview of mine took a little time to coalesce. One incident that helped it along happened when I returned from a reporting trip where I was trailing an entrepreneur who was doing all sorts of good works in addition to running his business. During this trip, he went out of his way to be kind and considerate to me. Although obviously it was in his best interests to be nice, when one is on a reporting trip involving lots of logistics and airports, politeness is not a small gesture. When I returned to the office, I sent him a quick thank-you note and didn’t think anything of it until an older colleague pointed out the folly of my ways: “Reporters don’t write thank-you notes.” Got it.

All this is front and center lately as we find ourselves in a journalists-as-one-of-us culture — where do you draw the line? The most glaring issue for me is recaps. Rarely are they “just the facts, ma’am,” and nor should they be. No one is reading them for a detailed synopsis of what they missed by not watching the show — that’s called a spoiler — but rather in lieu of the proverbial water cooler (or, in today’s parlance, rosé keg). More often, they are ways that the writer makes it clear that he or she is a fan — one of us. Just one with more backstory, insights and high-res photographs from the network’s PR team.

Readers, however, love this approach. I was speaking to a colleague recently, and she was saying that, for her publication, recaps do much better when the writer exhibits breathless excitement, particularly when behind the scenes at a big event such as an award show. That makes sense to me, and that’s what and why I want to read — to envision myself there but with more knowledge — rather than just a staid rehash that sounds less interesting than a school board meeting.

Even with all that in mind, I’m still squeamish.

[pullquote]I ran into one of the show’s stars at a New York theater gala, and perhaps took a selfie with her. Not ironically, not “for my kids.” A straight-up fan selfie.[/pullquote]

This ambivalence manifests itself in particular with my appreciation of a historic period drama called Turn: Washington’s Spies, which just wrapped its third season on AMC. For as long as I can remember, I usually find a piece of historical drama every season or two (See Argo, Inside Llewyn Davis and, going way back, Missing) that piques my interest, serving as a jumping-off point for me to learn way too much about that era and world. Last year when I was selling my family’s house, the show resonated with me as I began to learn more about the property, including that it was built on what was once a colonial tavern. Then I was off to the races. I read all sorts of books on the topic and era, dug up academic research and visited the locations that were referenced in the story, in real life and on screen.

I wrote a piece about the show for an entertainment site, talking about whether the ratings would get a boost from the Hamilton craze. In the piece, I made no bones about my appreciation for the show, but somehow I am of two minds when tweeting about it.

I kind of cringe at myself every time I live tweet the show, still hearing that old-school journalist voice in my head advocating for detachment. Through my cringing, though, I can’t resist the uniquely nerdy fun of the Twitter party that surrounds this show. Let’s be clear: The group that tweets at #TurnAMC is not the cool pop culture aficionado-filled Game of Thrones or The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story Twitter fan base. Rather, it is very much filled with passionate history teachers excited about a way to make early-America exciting for their students. One of my friends recently asked me if I was tweeting ironically every Monday night.

It is, however, a rare experience to have an engaged cast, crew and fan base watching it with you in real time, tweeting along, contributing researched historical details for context and fact-checking both you and the show as they go. When I thought I was so smart commenting that the use of the term ”cutting through the red tape” was probably not in use then, I got a swift schooling from those who knew better, including historian and author J.L. Bell (@Boston1775, naturally): “Metaphor came from government papers filed in bundles tied with red ribbon. Early 1700s. #TurnAMC” Noted.

The group also knows each episode writer’s style (the writer of each episode typically joins in on each week’s tweet session), responds to each other’s quips and creates inside jokes and memes as the hour progresses.

In this world, Hummingbird is not just a flying creature.

The atmosphere every Monday night is akin to going to a great party — although it’s more like an end of the semester party at the house of cool professor who lets you drink.

I ran into one of the show’s stars at a New York theater gala, and….perhaps took a selfie with her. Not ironically, not “for my kids,” as I’ve often seen done. Nope, a straight-up fan selfie. At what point does it become unseemly? I mentioned my ambivalence to her, but I think my concerns made no sense. From her end, she was thrilled that this Revolutionary War show had such engaged fans that wanted to take a picture. (I should say fan, singular. My husband was conveniently getting a glass of water or some other made up activity so he didn’t have to witness the epic dorkiness.)

tuenight caroline waxler heather lind turn

The author with actress Heather Lind (Photo courtesy Caroline Waxler)

As (we) fans are hoping for a fourth season to be green-lit, there’s a campaign lobbying the network to renew the show with a #RenewTURN hashtag, which pops up at the show’s usual airtime. I may be hemming and hawing and thinking and rethinking it, but I know exactly where I’ll be at 10 p.m. on Monday: the usual spot — Twitter — sending a #RenewTURN tweet, with a side of self-judgment.

Update: The show was indeed renewed, with the stars and producers attributing much to fan support. Did I tweet about the good news that the show was renewed? Couldn’t resist. And I was delighted that my attempted witticism in the tweet got liked by both someone pretending to be Alexander Hamilton and the Turn actor playing him. A historical moment indeed.

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Caroline Waxler

Caroline Waxler is a journalist, editor, author, and the founder of Harkness Hall, which programs content for talks, conferences, and festivals. She has curated summits for organizations including: Advertising Age, Autism Speaks, Condé Nast, Forbes, Google, Lucky magazine, Razorfish, and WWD. Waxler has written for television, print, and digital platforms, including Fortune, Glamour, “Good Morning America,” MTV, Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times. Barron’s and Amazon named her investing book, “Stocking Up On Sin,” a top book of the year. She has also helped to report and write books about the deputy director of the FBI, and the rise and fall of Bernie Madoff. A University of Pennsylvania graduate, with a major in Latin, Waxler resides in New York with her husband, Michael. You can find her on Twitter at @cwaxler.

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