Nobody likes being put on the spot.
And sometimes, that’s precisely how some people feel when they are being interviewed for a story.
It isn’t a little-known fact that trust in the news media has declined over the past few years. Especially with the onset of Trump’s era of “fake news,” Americans progressively feel the news media, and by association on-the-ground journalists, are pestering and conniving schemers who hold little regard for the well-being of others. This is best illustrated in a 2018 Gallup Poll, which mentioned “Most U.S. adults, including more than nine in 10 Republicans, say they personally have lost trust in the news media in recent years.”
I’ve not worked with any of big-name national media groups, so quite frankly I can’t argue against the assertion that all they care about is getting a good story. However, my experience does rest in local news, and I can speak to the fact that most journalists I know do this for a love of telling stories, connecting humans to one another and educating the public.
I mention all this because The Slate is beginning to see a growing reluctance from individuals who do not want to be quoted, do not want to be photographed and do not even want to have their voice recorded for note-taking purposes.
One might understand the reluctance of some individuals to go on-record for hard-hitting and ground-breaking news pieces on scandal or controversy, but this isn’t happening for just those pieces. Droves of would-be interviewees seem to be reluctant to answer such as simple question as “How was your first week of classes?” for a flavor piece on the Ship Life pages. Readers might understand our confusion.
During the assembly of this “Question of the Week,” segment (read on C1!), Ship Life Editor Justin Hawbaker and his assistant, Chaela Williams, observed that while seniors, juniors and sophomores were amicable and willing to be interviewed, six freshmen they approached balked at the prospect of being quoted.
I see this all the time in my personal life, where friends and acquaintances will give me ideas for innocuous, and even positive, stories in the community but insist they not be quoted as tipping the stories off. A source on a story I wanted to work on with Staff Writer Sam Fegan couldn’t find 15 minutes in their life to be interviewed regarding a service they were pioneering.
I completely understand that life can get busy, but 15 minutes for a news story that could bring deserved attention and support to a new service seems comparatively small and simple to the otherwise fast-paced rush of life.
Do these people find the idea of newspapers a silly and pointless waste of time? Were the freshmen just too busy, or were my friends too timid? Or are they scared? Is this a reflection of a much larger issue appearing across the nation as a result in media distrust? Are everyday Americans afraid of having their words twisted?
For my part, I encourage my fellow staff members at The Slate to be consistent and transparent with their intentions. It’s scary to hear a journalist wants to interview you, but having friendly assurance that it’s over something innocent and uncontroversial helps assuage others’ anxieties over saying something that could make themselves look ignorant.
But the rest of the bill falls on the side of the table of the everyday people who might be interviewed. I don’t think it’s reasonable to ask the public to blindly put all their trust in the media all at once. But as student journalists attempting to establish ourselves as ethical young professionals, the benefit of the doubt would benefit us all when we are producing innocent soft-ball pieces on uncontroversial subjects.
The same Gallup Poll mentioned previously in this column says, immediately following the first sentence that was quoted, “At the same time, 69% of those who have lost trust say that trust can be restored.”
Let’s hope that 69% decided to attend Shippensburg University, because The Slate is here to win them back.
"Your World Today" is a weekly column written by the editor-in-chief of The Slate. It represents solely the subjective opinion of the individual who wrote it. For Staff Editorial opinions, see this week's "The Slate Speaks."