Portrait of a Psychic as a Young Man

nathan and chandalier

Nathan Dyer focuses hard — really hard — on the chandelier. Photo by Morrigan McCarthy.

Ninety-nine percent of the time, using the pronoun “I” in a story is a journalistic no-no.

The reasons for this prohibition are many. One is objectivity. Remaining aloof and distant helps a reporter achieve the goal of objectivity, or so the conventional thinking goes.

Another is focus. The story isn’t about the reporter. It’s about the people they report on.

But sometimes, the pronoun “I” is a useful storytelling tool. For instance, “I” unlocks possibilities for framing and entering a story.

In the case of today’s feature on Saltcast, “I” (and it’s cousin “me”) allows the reporter to act as a surrogate for skeptical listeners when no character is available to play that role in the story.

Katie Mingle’s “Portrait of a Psychic as a Young Man” is a timeless tale of adolescence told through fifteen year old Nathan Dyer. Katie gently uses the first person in the story — sometimes directly, other times through carefully understated observation. She artfully achieves both objectivity and focus while employing “I.”

Just off the top of my head, I can think of two reporters who are masters of “I” —  Sean Cole and Neenah Ellis. They manage to navigate the tricky waters of objectivity and focus while writing in the first person.

Sean Cole has a lot of work posted at PRX. Many of his stories are archived at NPR.org. He also wrote an excellent essay on “I” for transom.org.

Many Neenah Ellis productions can also be found at PRX and NPR.org. I especially like Neenah’s opening piece in a series on centenarians.

Feast your ears on other stories by Katie Mingle at her website.

So much listening. So little time.





  1. 2 Responses to “Portrait of a Psychic as a Young Man”

  2. By will on May 15, 2010

    Rob, I miss your one-liner introductions to the saltast. Buckle up, smoke if you got’em, shhh.

    I don’t know whether you ran out of them, ran out of steam for doing them, or encountered some hard and sound reason why not to use them any more… I’m doubting the latter, so I want to recommend to things:

    1) that you re-incorporate them into the podcast
    and 2) that you call out to your listeners to submit their introductions. This will be a great way you can encourage community within your listening family, making at least feel like we’re integrated into the show…

    My recommendation is this:
    I am the Walrus. This is the Saltcast.

  3. By Emily on May 29, 2012

    The only time I noticed the “I” was when she said something like, “Today Nathan and I are in such-and-such store…” I have no problem with “I” stories. I just think you need to choose whether it’s a first-person story or a third-person story and go with it. In this case, I think she could have kept it as a third-person story. For instance, if Nathan was her friend and she was hanging out with him and shopping, it would make sense for her to mention herself. But since she was following Nathan as a reporter, to me it seems like she should have kept herself out of the narration.

Sorry, comments for this entry are closed at this time.