Reporters on the Job
GETTING THE DETAIL: To report today's story on unemployed workers in the Gaza Strip (page 7), the first stop was one of the protest tents that jobless workers have set up around Gaza City. After listening to unemployed worker Hassan Hasanein describe his woes, the Monitor's Cameron Barr asked if Mr. Hasanein would mind showing him his home. "The idea was to get him away from everybody else and to see just how he lived," says Cameron. "In the end, he didn't say anything different than he had at the tent. But we did get to see that he lives behind a butcher shop. So when he told us that he and his family 'see' meat but don't eat it we understood clearly what he meant. To me that little detail drove home Mr. Hasanein's frustrations more poignantly than anything else he said."
ETHICAL DILEMMA: Reporter Shawn Donnan says that credo he holds most dear as a journalist is that his job is to "afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted." But today's story presented him with an ethical dilemma: should journalists play by different rules when they're dealing with the afflicted rather than the comfortable?
"The people of Yuendumu asked me to sign a contract giving them the right to "vet" my copy and photographs as a condition of allowing me into the community.
"It was a Catch-22, since their story was important the Yuendumu story (page 7) really is the only hopeful note these days in what is otherwise a depressing tale when it comes to Aboriginal kids sniffing gasoline and I needed the permission of the community to visit (all remote Aboriginal communities require permits for visitors)," says Shawn.
"No journalist likes running the risk of compromising the integrity of the story. I wouldn't sign a similar agreement with a corporation on which I was writing a story. So was it right to sign one with the people of Yuendumu? I'm still uneasy with what I signed. But I do sympathize. The people of Yuendumu are tired of being portrayed in a negative light.
"In the end, the text changes they asked of me were inconsequential: In my original draft the Mount Theo program was 'scrappy.' That was changed to a 'barebones' outstation with an 'improvised' program.
"They also were uneasy about my description of trash-strewn backyards but more than willing for me to describe the cars torn apart for the parts in them.
"Did I exercise any self-censorship or write the story any differently than I might have otherwise? Not consciously.
"Would my experience with Yuendumu mean that I would be more comfortable signing such a contract again? Not at all."
David Clark Scott