Mar 20, 2009

Ethical Dilemmas

Make of this fact what you will: there are only 14 participants--all of them women--at the conference's one session on ethical dilemmas in narrative journalism.

Louise Kiernan of the Chicago Tribune opened the panel by discussing a multimedia series, The Beekeepers. In the middle of her reporting process, she found out that one of the sources in her story about rehabilitated prisoners producing "urban honey" at an inner-city aviary was still using heroin.

None of his coworkers at the aviary knew--even though he had once gotten re-arrested for trying to buy heroin. But Kiernan found out about the arrest during a periodic check of the source's criminal record. As it came to the end of her time reporting, she knew she was going to have to talk to the source's colleagues and supervisors about what she had found out and ask for their reaction.

Kiernan told the source what she knew--and that she was going to have to reveal his secret.

He asked her to be allowed to tell his co-workers first. Kiernan agreed.

In working with former prisoners, Kiernan said it was important to make sure they understood exactly what she was doing--and the differences between narrative journalism and daily reporting.

"These guys had been in newspaper stories and been on TV...but I was doing a radicaly different story from what they were used to," Kiernan said.

Talking to a journalist for an hour or two was one thing. These guys had learned how to give the "right" answers. But they weren't used to a reporter digging into their criminal record and talking to their family members.

Before the series ran, Kiernan brought each of her sources out to lunch and went through point by point, this is what the story is going to say...and when I talked to your mother, she said this."

But journalist may not realize that what they write in the story could be less important to sources than what runs alongside the text.

"We underestimate the power of photographs. When sources get upset after a story, it's often that they're getting upset about the photographs. I found that to be a very sensitive issue in all sorts of stories," Kiernan said.

More soon.

1 comment:

  1. i want the process done by the producer of ethical delimma