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This blog is written by Director of the Institute Michael Schmidt, unit managers or facilitators at the IAJ about current media and communications issues and debates.

 

Balancing truth and vulnerable sources

I've been pondering an opinion piece written by Jo-Anne Richards for a while, particularly her saying

"Only when I plied these same memoirists [interviewees for her book] with wine and assurances of ‘fiction’, did they relax enough to expose their deepest and darkest. When the novel appeared, one of my interviewees found it too “unsettling” to read. I took that as a compliment."

 

Her piece is about making the leap from being a journalist to being a (fiction) writer, but the way people responded to interviews that they felt were not going to be held against them or that they needed to ‘editorialise’ their lives.

 

There are, of course, tricks to get more genuine responses out of interviewees, which is why we train journalists both get the most from and create brilliant audiovisual and written content from interviews.

I guess I’m just musing on the universal desire to tell stories, to neaten the messiness of everyday life and of course to come out a good light. The need to support a positive self-concept is a potential mind field for journalists in terms of the tension between ethics and the need to report objectively. But I suppose journalists can put interviewees at ease when interviewing them to get better responses, and try support the self-concept, particularly of the most vulnerable.

 

Like so many ethical conundrums, it requires some thought in the field and back in the news desk.