Dawn Colclasure's Blog

Author and poet Dawn Colclasure

Friday, August 05, 2005

The downsides of journalism

When I was asked to show a source my story before submitting it to my editor, I had issues. Normally, journalists are told to NEVER let your sources read your work BEFORE it goes to press. I had this same issue when I was in college: A source I was interviewing grabbed my notes and started making corrections, mumbling "I didn't say that" and "that's not correct." When I later talked to my instructor about this (without telling him exactly WHAT had happened, because I was too embarrassed over it), he reinforced the rule that we cannot share our notes and stories. And just as I am willing to safeguard my sources with a fierceness, I should consider doing the same with my stories.

But on one occasion, I didn't. I didn't do this. I never wanted to admit to this, but I ended up showing my sources my story. They promptly sent it back to me with red lines crossing out sentences and rephrased quotations. After I read it, I had a very sick feeling in my stomach. It felt like someone else had written my story. It was like a child having a parent do their homework for them (for the record, I always did my own homework).

I felt like someone's puppet.

This experience may be chalked up to the whole "live and learn" philosophy but it's definitely made me recall other ways journalists end up being someone's puppet. Anytime a company or celebrity has a "publicity moment," journalists are assembled to hold interviews, take pictures and record sound bites. In this way, they're not really reporting on news; they're doing something to make the company or celebrity look GOOD. This is exactly what happens with all those magazines writing frilly, soulful stories over Britney Spears' pregnancy; the crap being shoved down our throats isn't anything new but, oh, it's BRITNEY SPEARS so we HAVE to write about it.

Give me a break.

Rant off. Heh.

Seriously, though. This is just an example. The same can (but not always does) happen with the war going on in Iraq; Bush's press control team wants journalists and reporters to show the POSITIVE side of the war all in the name of justifying it. Never mind any mistakes or oversights made. Never mind it was later proven that Hussein had NO LINK to September 11th or that there weren’t any WMDs. Never mind any of that; journalists were spoon-fed the GOOD stuff. And some actually reported it.

Then there's the fact that, when we try to cover the news nobody gets to read about, certain people all of a sudden are stricken with amnesia.

"I don't know who you are."

"I have no idea who/what you are talking about."

"I never said that!" (Even though it was recorded.)

"I never did that." (Add your own variations here.)

"You never told me you wanted to talk about THAT."

Add to this the trouble we have to go to in trying to draw out the anonymous source. We hear about an anonymous couple doing this or an anonymous group doing that and OF COURSE we want to write about it, because it has serious news value. Then when we finally contact these sources in some way, they clam up. They don’t WANT to be interviewed or dragged through the retelling, because they want to REMAIN anonymous. I have no problem with this, yet no matter how much I assure them I will keep them anonymous and that I would never give out their information, these people tend to think that talking to me would be like signing their death warrant. The problem with this is that, without these sources, there is no story. And the whole story of how this is happening never sees the light of day. Of course, there's always the chance that some hush money can come into play here, but there’s also the chance that these people just don’t trust the media.

Alternatively, I have also been contacted by people who don't mind revealing themselves with stories that literally made my jaw drop. There were the cases of people suffering from a type of depression because of low-carb diets. The story of women suffering from chronic pain and disfiguration due to plastic surgery. The real-life story of teens committing suicide because of a serious case of bullying in one part of the country.

And NOBODY wanted to run it. I contacted newspapers and magazines, saying I had these leads. And all I got was the "how sad but not for us" treatment. I'm suspicious. Money is probably the reason why they won't run it. A magazine running an article on how low-carb diets can be BAD would lose advertising revenue from the makers of low-carb foods (which translates into thousands of dollars). Running an article on the downsides of plastic surgery could cost plastic surgeons money -- or even magazines advertising these services money. It's all about money, even when it comes to journalism.

So the real difference here is what the journalist is willing to do. How far they are willing to go and what ethics and morals they can live with in compromising.

As for me, I'll never again be compromising ANY of them.


  • At 12:35 PM , Blogger MK said...

    Fantastic post, Dawn! I agree with you 100%. Keep doing what you're doing-- you're awesome.

  • At 12:48 PM , Blogger Dawn Wilson said...

    Thank you SO MUCH, Mridu!! You don't know how much I needed that. :)


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