One of the biggest ethical issues in the world of journalism is the fear of getting too close to your sources. I call it a fear because the traditional notion of getting too close to your sources could lead to the loss of objectivity – a cornerstone of journalistic integrity. I came across this problem firsthand yesterday amidst my reporting for the Toronto Observer. It was a neat experience to say the least, but it wasn’t until after my encounter did I realize that I may have been unintentionally coerced to write my story more favour of the views of my source.
Throughout the week, I’ve been covering a story for the concerning the new Green Energy Act released by the Ontario provincial government. One of the big issues is the possibility of wind turbine systems being erected to use more wind energy, rather than the usual fuel and coal energy we all know and love. It’s particularly important where I’m based because of the famous Scarborough Bluffs, which the province has has it’s sights set for for a the potential introduction of the systems. Many residents in the area have expressed concern for this new process so that’s where my coverage comes in… (I’d love to discuss the story, but that’s not the blog topic.. for more information feel to research to issue on your own;)
One of the first people to be quoted in papers expressing “a not so positive” outlook on the act was Paul Ainslie, councilor for Ward 43 – Scarborough East (the area where the Bluffs are located). I would certainly have to get in touch with him if I wanted to get a better local perspective of the situation.
It’s a little after 5 p.m. and I’m still in the newsroom at Centennial, finally finished gathering information, ready to see if I could contact the councilor. I never intended to actually have a quote by the end of the day, but that didn’t bother me because I knew I had enough time to get his word and still come up with a story by my deadline. I come across his website, where I notice he has calendar. I click on the link, which I hope will give me an idea of his schedule outside of City Hall responsibilities. Not only did I find that, but low and behold there was a scheduled Town Meeting tonight in the area for 7 p.m. Now… normally when these super awesome things come up, I’m never fully prepared; I’m usually missing a camera or recorder, or have no questions prepped. This was not the case!
So after clearing stuff at home, which means no dinner in un-kosher Scarborough, I made my way down to the Cedar Ridge Creative Centre for this meeting. I had to walk a bit of the way (15 minutes) because the TTC buses could only take me so far. It was weird walking down one the streets because some people had stepped out of their houses and literally stared me down as I walked by them… Probably wasn’t me, but hey when was the last time they saw a Jew walk down their street at night?
Once I got there, I was clearly the youngest of the dozen or so people who showed up for the meeting. It’s too bad not enough people show up for these things because they’re actually quite informative and you get to build a relationship with the people running your neighbourhood. The meeting went for about an hour and a half. Later I approached the councilor and began talking to him. We had the interview, which went very well, then told him about our paper and how we’re always looking for stories and issues. I said that we have no problem writing stuff once it gets out, but we suck when it comes to finding it ourselves, or getting spoilers and releases like how big media outlets receive. He understood that, expressing how you put in so much work into something yet little feedback comes in return and its a little disheartening. It’s always great to maintain active network of relationships.
After exchanging contacts, I picked up my stuff and proceeded to leave… then the fun starts…
“How did you get here?” he asks me.
“I took the bus, than walked here,” I replied.
“Can I give you a ride to Lawrence?” (where the bus is)
“Sure… I’m heading back to campus by Morningside and Ellesmere…”
(Here’s where I stuck my foot in my mouth):
“Actually, where are you headed?”
Ainslie: “East around that area, want a lift?”
“Sure! That be great.”
So I got ride to along with the councilor in his big black van back to campus. We schmoozed about the community, school, yeshiva in Israel, how he failed the LSAT 3 times and then started a food business and other things. That was really nice of him. I’m naturally very appreciative when kind deeds are done for me.
But then as I began waiting for the bus, I wondered had I accepted too much from him? I’ve never shied away from accepting a ride somewhere (See future post of rant about public transit) and at that point he was just another human being, who deserves proper respect like any other person, who’d do something for me.
But when writing my stories, including this one, it doesn’t resonate in my mind how nice a source was to me beyond the matters of exchanging information for stories. This doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate them taking the time to answer my questions. Rather, it’s the opposite. I don’t know about you, but I’d love to be cited in newspaper articles regardless of what paper it is. Yes, you have bear in mind the role source plays in stories, but I don’t know anyone who would deliberately shoot down a source (aka with malicious intent) in a story. Unless substantial reasoning exists, that’s not right…
I hope I can maintain a respectful relationship with my sources in the future.