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Is it ever okay for journalists to betray their subjects' trust?

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by brandonsneed, Oct 25, 2013.

  1. brandonsneed

    brandonsneed Member

    Hey everyone,

    This is something I've been thinking a lot more the longer I do journalism, and it's starting to really bother me. I'd love it if you all could give this blog post a look, because I don't want to copy-and-paste the whole thing into a message board: http://brandonsneed.com/home/esquire-journalist-tom-junod-recently-said-in-the-process-of.html.

    I'd also like to talk about it some, if we could. Here or in the comments over there—either one is great.

    Thanks everyone.

  2. SnarkShark

    SnarkShark Well-Known Member

    I've had this happen to me more than once. Sometimes the story needs to include something the subject doesn't want in it.

    Recently, I've even had to rescind an previous agreement with a source.

    I got the story entirely from this person with the agreement we wouldn't use a certain aspect of the story, which my bosses and I thought wouldn't be essential to the story at the time. Through reporting, it became very apparent that the aspect was essential. We actually told the source that we would stick to our agreement and not run the story (which they really wanted published), or we could adjust that agreement to include the aspect they didn't want in the story.

    As a journalist, sometimes you have to make concessions to get a story, but if you're going to burn a source, you better be damn sure it's worth it. That reputation can follow you, especially if you're on a beat.
  3. imjustagirl

    imjustagirl Active Member

    I don't know if you changed the URL, but the link you gave us doesn't work.


    That one does.
  4. brandonsneed

    brandonsneed Member

    Hey, thanks IJAG. Not sure what happened. But you rock.
  5. albert77

    albert77 Well-Known Member

    I think where the rubber meets the road is when you're in a courtroom facing a contempt charge if you don't reveal a source. Most of us can easily say we'd never betray a source's confidentiality, but when you're looking at jail time, suddenly it's not so easy. Fortunately, I've never been put to the test like that, but I'm not sure how I'd react if I did. A lot would depend on the type of story it is and what the consequences would be of exposing the source.
  6. Starman

    Starman Well-Known Member

    If you find out, and have pretty solid evidence, that the source knowingly and intentionally fed you bogus information in order to get you to put out a story intended to embarass/discredit/legally damage someone (especially you), in that case, out them with gusto. Hang 'em up to dry.

    But make sure you're right.
  7. Mark2010

    Mark2010 Active Member

    Ok, so that's an exception, if someone blatantly lies to you. Even them, I try to call them back to give them the chance to refute what someone else said.

    To answer the original question, if you betray someone's trust, even unintentionally, understand that they probably aren't going to want to talk with you in the future.
  8. EStoess

    EStoess Member

    Really enjoyed the (your) story Brandon, and appreciate the story that it ended up being. I think you got the ending right.

    I'm not writing about sports and topics like this, but I understand your question. You work so heard gaining that trust, getting in the door even, to tell someone's story, and then you want to do it justice, first, and do them justice, too. But sometimes those last parts are what's in conflict. I guess you just hope they understand that and I think most times they do. I try not to think of it as betraying their trust. And for me, in my mind, it's more about telling the whole story the right way, not about "expressing myself." I'm sure subconsciously that's there, and maybe it's the same, but that's how I think about it. And I know I'm coming at it from a way different angle and that's why I'm doing it for a consumer feeling trade mag.

    Anyway, great job.
  9. brandonsneed

    brandonsneed Member

    Hey, thanks!
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