The moment that really drove it home for me that I could never be a reporter came as I was finishing up my final project for an investigative reporting class in college.
My project was on the student health center’s frequent misdiagnoses of students who had mono, and who sometimes presented very classic mono symptoms, only to be told they were fine — or in many female students’ cases, that they were probably pregnant. USC has a special directory of its professors, so members of the media can find experts on various topics. Through the directory, I found a doctor with an expertise in mono. I told her I was working on a class project and my story wouldn’t be published anywhere, just read by my professor. I wanted her to talk to me about basic symptoms of mono — the subject on which she was listed as an expert in a directory that serves as an invitation to be contacted by journalists. She immediately panicked. She refused to speak on the record — again, the story wasn’t being published anywhere — was incredulous that I would ask questions in order to better understand the subject I was covering, and eventually hung up on me.
Reporters have it rough, man.
And while there are a great deal of legitimate reasons that people sometimes don’t want to talk to the press, including fears for their job or safety. Still, there are a few excuses folks give for not speaking with reporters that really get me. One, in particular, is a pre-emptive accusation of bias.
It is quite a feat of logic when reporters reach out to people precisely to get their perspective and voice into a story and those folks decline, citing our bias. The result is often a story devoid of those perspectives, which we actively sought out, that allows those same accusations of bias to persist. And around and around we go, because time is a flat circle and some things never change.
This is a challenge we’re running into with Politifest, as we try to fill out panels and debates about a host of issues on which there are a host of various perspectives and opinions.