Go to almost any media outlet's website and you'll see a section for first-person essays with headlines like "I Was Cheating on My Boyfriend When He Died" or "My Gynecologist Found a Ball of Cat Hair in My Vagina." While such confessional writing has always been a feature of the Internet, we're currently obsessed, writes Laura Bennett on Slate (a site that is not immune to the phenomenon, having itself published essays like "I Could Have Been Elliot Rodger"). "Editors are constantly searching for writers with any claim to expertise on a topic to elevate their pieces above the swarm. First-person essays have become the easiest way for editors to stake out some small corner of a news story and assert an on-the-ground primacy without paying for reporting," she writes. "For writers looking to break in, offering up grim, personal dispatches may be the surest ways to get your pitches read."
But writers may not be thinking about the consequences, writes Bennett, who spoke to editors and confessional writers alike for her column. "Rather than feats of self-branding, [first-person pieces] seem to be ... professional dead ends, journalistically speaking," she writes. One former xoJane editor says the process is often "exploitative" of writers, and one former Thought Catalog writer says that after four years, he found himself exhausted by the pressure to drive more and more traffic and ultimately moved to LA to "escape the first-person Internet. It’s disturbia out there," he says. Another writer ended up estranged from her family after writing an essay for Jezebel that went viral titled "On Falling In and Out of Love With My Dad"—and found that when she pitched her next idea, a non-first-person essay about Mad Max, she got no response whatsoever. Bennett's full piece is worth a read. (Read more essay stories.)