Cathy Horyn is a fashion journalist we admire. A lot. She’s incredibly smart, she doesn’t pander, and she’s thoughtful about the work she produces. As a Barnard alum, Horyn penned an essay for the school’s fashion magazine, Hoot. In it she lays out her issues with fashion blogs, and gives advice to aspiring writers.
Horyn is a reporter, first and foremost. This is something we learned in a 2005 column for the Times, in which she skillfully wrote about her then-recent weight loss and the fashion industry’s attitude toward size. (It’s really worth a read.) In that same piece, she discussed how she ended up a fashion critic:
It’s a funny story. At the newspaper where I worked before Detroit, the woman who covered fashion got to go to New York two weeks every year, for the collections. New York: it sounded good to me.
In her piece for Hoot, Horyn retells her origin story, emphasizing her background in hard news reporting. She also encourages aspiring journos to beef up on the skills that have served her well:
The direction you take obviously depends on your goals, but if you want to be a journalist, then learn and develop reporting skills. One of the things I notice about a lot of fashion blogs is that the writing is not supported by information or a depth of knowledge about the business or the design process. They lack reporting, which demands specific skills — being a good observer, developing sources, knowing what’s relevant. At a time when the options in journalism seem limited to young people, it is worth making the effort to truly understand an area of interest.
In many ways we agree with Horyn, who also goes on to write that developing an original voice is the key to being a critic. It’s important for bloggers to know how to report (and just as importantly, to write), and it’s important to have a keen knowledge in regards to your beat. But blog content is by nature different than newspaper or magazine content. Fashionista‘s Leah Chernikoff sums up the blogger’s dilemma quite nicely:
Fashion blogs often lack reporting and I grapple with this. Because I also know that the pace and nature of blogs doesn’t always allow for original reporting on each of the 10 to 20 posts that go up a day–but we can and should do more of it…Ideally, the frenzied pace and aggregating tendencies of web reporting work themselves out and we’re left with more quality original content.
That said, it’s important to note that aggregation is especially important in the fashion news space. As it stands, a vast majority of industry news is broken by Women’s Wear Daily, a trade publication most consumers do not have access to due to a pricey paywall. This is a situation unique to the fashion world. In no other industry does a single trade source break so much important news. This is news that consumers are interested in knowing, but have no real access to, which is where blogs like this one step in.
Horyn indeed has a point, as does Chernikoff, though aggregated and original content are not mutually exclusive. A good blog should publish summaries of and commentary on news that is reported elsewhere, but also feature original content in the form of reported pieces, exclusive interviews, and essays — and, in the hands of talented writers and editors, this is a formula that will continue to evolve.