Saturday, June 18, 2011

staying on the sidelines

A friend was surprised yesterday to learn that I rarely vote, or even register, and am uncomfortable participating in advocacy events as anything other than a journalist. I feel out of place at such things without a notebook. It's not that I don't have opinions—I certainly do—but years of working to make sure my reporting is fair, and that my sources don't feel judged regardless of their stances, make me hesitant to express what I think in any public way. This meant, yesterday, that I disappointed my friend by not joining her at a gay pride march.

But this reluctance was justified twice yesterday. First, I met with a someone who asked for my help crafting a narrative of his story. He was uncomfortable and defensive as he related it to me, and I discovered that it was because he had never shared his past and his views with anyone before without feeling judged and defensive in the process. When he realized that he couldn't discern my views during our conversation, because I was putting aside any I may have had to plunge into his worldview, he relaxed.

Second: another friend, getting her journalism degree, was apprehensive about covering a touchy event and asked for reporting advice before she began. Here's my advice, edited to delete blatant identifiers:

friend: One of my weaker areas is approaching crowd members for interviews because i overthink what to ask themonce I dive in I'm all goodme: don't say, "can i ask you a question"
just walk up and introduce yourself and ask
  or chat and then intro then ask
 friend: k
 me: if they feel like it's a conversation it's smoother
 stupid questions like "wow what are they doing?"
and at first i usually just go with people, no matter what crazy shit they say, and don't challenge things that seem like bullshit til a bit farther on
  bc as you already know, people always have a point, even if we think they're nuts
friend: right
  plus I'm going to be talking to some real nutty people
me: you can say ... "so what would you say to someone who... to get their response w/o them feeling attacked
friend: oh yeah
  I like taking care that I'm presenting myself as neutral or kind
 me: you can also ask "who would be a good person to talk to" which i'm saying bc i often forget to do it
 friend: right
 me: bc then you have cred
friend: WORD
 me: "so and so suggested i speak to you  Yesterday evening, I got an email from said friend. (No, I can't figure out how to un-indent this text.) It read:
Ok so I'm good at journalism. I started an interview that was filmed and poached when I got someone talking about what they shouldn't have at the big media blitz, and I've embedded with some [folks] who think I'm totally great. I took your advice and it made me feel better about doing what I do. 

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