Rory Gilmore is a terrible journalist. Can we talk about this?
Now, to be fair — and SPOILER ALERTS EVERYWHERE — they do a pretty good job in the revival of making it clear her big-time journalism career isn’t going anywhere. It’s fitting that her probable future is running the Stars Hollow Gazette. But the entire pre-revival series, and much of the revival itself, goes on and on about her very serious and impressive journalism career.
Except Rory Gilmore is a terrible journalist.
Throughout the series and the reboot, she’s treated essentially as a prodigy, a brilliant soul and a sparkling writer. Which, honestly, makes no sense. After a lot of fumbling, she earned a journalism degree from Yale, which doesn’t actually offer a journalism undergrad. (OK, let’s suspend disbelief, and that’s fair.) Her career, as far as I can piece together, is one (ONE) Talk of the Town piece in The New Yorker a full decade after graduating from college. Everyone raves about it and one dude seriously compares her to David Foster Wallace — and then we eventually find out the piece is about the drunken British something-something she was trying to write a book about. Without a contract. Long distance? And then got fired. I don’t know.
So the New Yorker piece is the basis of her career, along with some freelance pieces in Slate and The Atlantic and hey, what about all that time she covered Obama on the campaign trail? Nobody mentions it, even though it would have to easily be the biggest, most impressive item on her resume, so let’s assume it was mediocre or didn’t last long.
From what we actually see on screen, Rory’s a terrible journalist. And the revival did a great job of cementing it in one, yell-at-the-screen scene.
Midway through one of the seasons, she gets a vague spec assignment from GQ to write about people who wait in lines for things. (I get that this is a story. But this is not a story for a brilliant prodigy who is being heralded for Pulitzer-worthy pieces in The New Yorker. Let’s just get that out there. It’s a piece for Andie Anderson before she figures out how to lose Matthew McConaughey in 10 days.) Anyway, a story about waiting in line for fancy New York City doughnut-type objects, new shoes, whatever is trendy at the moment. It’s a terrible assignment for anyone other than an intern or a rookie, but a good journalist can find a good story in just about anything. And remember, Rory is a good journalist.
She hits a few lines, with her mom in tow. (Wrong.) She interviews a few people and never asks their names. (Wrong.) She falls asleep during an interview. (Wrong.) She doesn’t even have a bag with her. WHAT IF YOUR PHONE DIES, RORY? WHAT’S YOUR BACKUP PLAN? (So, wrong.) And then she comes to a line where the people actually don’t know what they’re waiting in line for. They’re just there, because waiting in lines is trendy and if someone is waiting in a line, you need to be there, too. Turns out, this line is just three dudes eating their lunch on a stoop and people have lined up behind them. There’s nothing at the end. Everyone’s in line for nothing.
Let’s pause for a little pop quiz. What’s a more interesting story?
Option A: These people waited in line for six hours to buy new sneakers.
Option B: These people waited in line for six hours without realizing it wasn’t actually a line and look how far this waiting-in-lines thing has gone that people are wasting hours of their lives for literally nothing what a great commentary on society and our need to be first first first.
Rory Gilmore, prodigy journalist, picks Option A. She WALKS AWAY. Giggling with Lorelai, I think.
Guys, she’s 32. She covered a future president, I guess. I can’t remember if they ever bring it up again, so I’m really starting to assume that, much like her journalism career, that didn’t work out like she had hoped. In case you hadn’t heard, she was published in The New Yorker one time. Ten years into her career and she should be a seasoned journalist by any standards. She was doing a story about people waiting in lines, freshman stuff. She found people waiting in line for nothing, with a great hook … and walked away. (And then maybe came back and slept with a source wearing a Wookiee costume. Wrong.)
So this is when my wife and I, former journalists, current editor and journalism professor, tried not to wake up our daughter by yelling “THAT’S YOUR STORY! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!”
Then my sister — a sports writer and Gilmore Girls diehard — texted me:
I know what you’re thinking. This is a lot of ranting about something that just doesn’t matter that much. It’s just a TV show. Just a fictional character. In a world of fake news and free-for-all journalism, it doesn’t actually matter.
But it does matter. And maybe it’s just personal. Journalism is sacred to me. It’s what I always wanted to do, and it’s what I’ve done in one aspect or another since 1995. My sister and some of my best friends still do it. I met my wife because of it. We pounded pavement and worked our butts off for it. None of us were ever entitled to a great story, a great job or a great interview. We tried, some of us succeeded, some of us failed, all of us cared and learned and pushed.
To see journalism portrayed so poorly on screen always bothers me. It’s undoubtedly how doctors feel when they watch Grey’s Anatomy or the Archangels feel when they watch The Good Place.
But here’s the thing. Writing 101: Write what you know. If you don’t know journalism, don’t write about it. One of the Gilmore Girls’ shining moments was watching Doyle — Paris’ former better half — rattle off his big movie writing accomplishments, something the actor has done in real life and Gilmore Girls creator Amy Sherman-Palladino and her writing partner/husband Daniel know a thing or two about. It felt real because it’s what they know.
They don’t know journalism and therefore, neither did Rory. A little job shadowing, a few questions to someone who actually does the job and it’s an easy career to mimic. So lazy and glib portrayals of it bother me. And when trust in the press is at an all-time low, any half-assed fictional portrayal of the profession just adds a layer to that mistrust. I want to give them some credit that maybe this was always intentional, that Rory is supposed to be a terrible journalist and the joke’s on her, not us. But that feels a little too introspective for this show and the layers and layers of praise piled on her. To that point, the only character who ever had an appropriate reaction to Rory’s journalism skills was Mitchum Huntzberger, who nailed it when he told her she didn’t have what it takes and was immediately villainized and disregarded.
I’m getting a little deep here. The point is that Rory Gilmore is a terrible journalist. Maybe she’d have been a great English-major-turned-essayist, an author, a writer-at-large, a blogger. The saving grace came as the revival wound down and managed to right itself a bit, forcing Rory to change course, take the reins at her small-town paper, and write a book about — wait for it — what she knows.
(Editor's note: Many thanks to my wife, Jen Moritz, for helping me find the proper tone for this post and for the encyclopediac knowledge of Gilmore Girls).