One of the most frustrating experiences you can have as a reporter is a source refusing to talk to you. You email them, you call them, and they continue to ignore you or refuse to be quoted. The recent Atlantic article explains the conundrum pretty well with regard to recent campus activism - activists become frustrated when their voices are not broadcast, yet refuse to talk to the mechanism for broadcasting. Of course, this phenomenon extends to multiple demographics, not just activists.
Naturally, as someone who works for a college newspaper, I have strong opinions on the subject. Most of these opinions can be summed up by one sentence: People should talk to the press.
Yet I had that opinion challenged last week when I had my first interview. Not the first interview I’ve conducted, but the first interview where I’ve been on the other side of the mic.
I hadn’t realized how nervous I would be, how wary of being misrepresented. I found myself second guessing everything I was saying, wondering if my sound bites could be taken out of context. I realized that unlike when it was me giving the interview, I had no way of being sure of the reporter’s good intentions.
The interesting thing about the press is although we expend an enormous amount of time and energy investigating everyone else’s business, the actual mechanisms of the press are often opaque.
But in both roles, reporter and subject, I realized that my ultimate intention was similar. As a reporter, I cared about getting the most accurate information possible, from a variety of sources, so that my article would reflect the reality of the situation and the various opinions involved. As an interviewee, I cared about accurately explaining my side and understanding of the issue, so that my perspective could be broadcast further.
In each case, I cared most about getting the truth out and being accurate. The goal of an interview is to gain information, to learn about a perspective that the reporter does not have. Had I refused to talk to the reporter, she would have lacked the information I could give her and subsequently written a sparser, less informed piece — a situation I’ve found myself in when writing stories.
Being interviewed can be intimidating or seem like an attack, especially if the subject is sensitive or personal. And yes, there are times when topics should be kept off the record, or not mentioned. There are times when the reporter is in the wrong. But uniformly going into the conversation expecting the worst, or refusing to talk to a reporter because of preconceived ideas on the reporter’s use of the material is both unfair and unproductive.
In most circumstances, the reporter is on your side — they want to transmit your words faithfully and with appropriate context. They are asking you questions because they are investigating, not because they have an agenda that they want to fill. The press and the media are not a monolith bent on spinning a specific angle.
In almost every case, refusing to talk to the media does not mean that the story will not be written. It simply means that the story will be written without your input, and your perspective will go unexplained.
This fact is perhaps more relevant when applied to groups than to individuals. In many cases, groups — especially activist groups — refuse to engage with the media or only engage with the media on certain terms. While it is understandable that groups representing marginalized demographics would be wary to cooperate with perceived establishment outlets, complete refusal to speak with the mainstream media is unhelpful to both groups.
Refusal to engage with the institution only cements a group’s status as outsiders, and prevents a wider audience from hearing its message. Without communication, there can be no understanding.
If you believe that your side of the story is one that should be reported, you should talk to the press. Withholding information helps nobody, and leads to a less-well reported story which in turn leads to incorrect stories and misrepresentation. While there are exceptions to this rule, in most cases it stands firm. Refusing to speak to the press and then claiming that the press misrepresents you is ridiculous.
ISABEL KIM is a rising College junior from Warren, N.J. studying English and Fine Arts. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. "Serious Business" appears every other Thursday.
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