Building Trust in Investigative Journalism
Some of my stories see me interviewing "victims" of something horrible. This is my approach to respectively telling their stories.
The ‘Deranged Bitch’ hoodies and tees have almost sold out! Thank you! There are only a few left in a few sizes. Once they’re all tallied up, I’ll let you know how much is going to Rainbow Youth and the Planned Parenthood Relief Fund.
It’s been a weird week. For one thing, monkeys are trying to steal babies in Japan:
“People in a southwestern Japanese city have come under attack from monkeys that are trying to snatch babies, biting and clawing at flesh, and sneaking into nursery schools.”
The photos are terrifying.
Alex Jones’ damages case has also begun — a case that will decide how much he must pay the family of six-year-old Jesse Lewis, who was killed in the Sandy Hook school shooting. Despite the revisionist history Jones has attempted to paint since, he terrorised families of Sandy Hook victims, popularising the conspiracy theory there was no mass shooting and everyone was a crisis actor.
I’m in touch with Jones’ ex-wife, Kelly, who is now incredibly outspoken against her former husband — and his role in the January 6 riots. I hope to bring you more on that, soon.
As for today, I’ve been mulling this over for the last month, and my thoughts still aren’t fully formed — but I wanted to write a few things down about how I report on stories where people are terrified to come forward.
I’m doing this for two reasons:
To perhaps help anyone starting out in investigative journalism.
To clear up how I work, a little.
To speak directly to those thinking of approaching me about a story, who have questions about privacy and where their information might end up.
I hope it makes my approach a little clearer, and might provide a few ‘tips’ for people new to the field of journalism and documentary.
Let’s get into it.
Back when people wanted to talk to me.
When I started in journalism back in 2005 (after graduating with a communications degree majoring in journalism), I did what I’d call ‘very shallow entertainment reporting’. I interviewed movie stars who wanted to promote a film, and musicians who had gigs they needed to sell tickets to.
And I loved it. For a time.
I felt lucky, in that I got to sit down with people I admired — Christian Bale and Leonardo DiCaprio; Metallica, Lorde and Robyn; To borrow Karl Pilkington’s words, “the googly-eyed freak” from The Office.
What all those people had in common is that they wanted to talk to me. They had movies to promote; concert tickets to sell. There were no questions about where the information would go, how it would be used, or if they’d get sued for talking to me.
Entertainment journalism is one thing. Investigative work is something else entirely.
Then when people didn’t want to talk to me.
In 2014, I started working on Tickled with Dylan Reeve. What had began as a series of blogs morphed into an investigative documentary about a New York recluse and con man called David D’Amato.
This saw a giant change in my work, and how I had to approach it.
This was the first ‘story’ I’d encountered where I realised I needed people to talk to me who didn’t want to talk to me.
These people fell into two camps: ‘victims’ and ‘bullies’.
Victims didn’t want to talk, because they were scared. Football player TJ was a victim. He was terrified of talking, because he thought the tickle mafia would come after him.
Bullies on the other hand don’t want to talk because they are afraid of being outed. David D’Amato was in this camp in Tickled, as was Kevin Clarke and Marko Realmonte.
So — how do you work with people who don’t want to talk?
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