Second-year journalism student Bradley Collins handed me his story with some hesitation, as if he was unsure how good it might be. I started reading…
Teresa Wright had a very nervous woman come to her about the Island’s immigrant investor program.
The woman didn’t want to go anywhere. She didn’t want to be seen talking to Wright. So they sat in Wright’s parked car in the middle of winter.
“The provincial government employees went to China and were accepting cash in envelopes in exchange for entry into the program,” the woman said.
“This is really crazy. Do you have any documentation? Did you take any pictures?” Wright asked.
“No. But I’m telling you, I saw it with my own eyes,” the woman said.
“OK. Well, I’m going to have to use your name. I can’t allege fraud unless I have more than an unnamed source,” Wright said.
“No, no. You can’t use my name. You can’t,” the woman said.
Teresa, a graduate of our program from a few years ago, is the chief political reporter for this paper. She’s very good. And she was in a situation familiar to any reporter trying to break a story.
It might be big story, but she might not be able to run it. Bradley summed up her advice…
Don’t ignore sources, however unlikely or unseemly they are. Still, some of the best stories are the ones you’ll never be able to tell, Wright told the journalism students in her talk.
“I knew about the abuse of this program. There were other ways to tell the story.”
Check every fact. Verify everything. Ask for documents. Explore every angle. Tell every side of the story you can get your hands on. There’s never really one truth, she said.
“The government won’t go after your source. They’ll go after you.”
Too true. The words “mainstream media” are often used these days to imply dinosaurs peddling fake news. Think Donald Trump in full preen.
Somehow, a newsroom founded on the idea of checking every fact - then checking it again - is considered dated in that bizarre world.
Wrong. There are few things more valuable to society than an aggressive, determined newsroom, unafraid to ask hard questions, refusing to rush a story into print before the reporting is done.
Witness the Washington Post.
One of its reporters was told by a woman called Jaime T. Phillips about a hot story. Roy Moore, the odious candidate for the Republicans in the U.S. Senate race in Alabama, had gotten her pregnant when she was a teen years ago. The result was an abortion, at age 15.
Now she wanted to sink his election bid. She wanted the reporter to promise her the story would do the job.
“I want him to be completely taken out of the race.”
The reporter smelled a rat. The real reporting began. When it was done, the story that ran on Nov. 27 laid out the plot by the woman, who worked for a group seeking to embarrass the mainstream media, Project Veritas.
She’d lie to the paper. It would print her lies. Project Veritas would swoop in.
Only, the Post did what real reporters do. It reported. And reported. And reported. And when it was done, it published.
The truth. Welcome to journalism.
Rick MacLean is an instructor in the journalism program at Holland College in Charlottetown.