When a private citizen agrees to be interviewed by a reporter for, let’s say, a profile, they’re giving a gift.
I mean think about it. People don’t have to say anything to a reporter. Nothing. Reporters don’t have a right to interview people. We don’t have a right to enter homes or workplaces. We can ask, of course. But they can easily say no. And that’s that.
When someone does say yes, I think of it this way: It’s their story and they’re giving a reporter permission to tell it. But there’s a catch. The reporter needs to act independently. The reporter has to be free to report the story so they can tell it fully and honestly. Or, put another way, it may be the interviewee’s story, but it’s not their reporting process.
Negotiating that boundary is tricky. How can a person retain ownership of their story but not how it’s told? That sounds contradictory. And, frankly, I think it is. On top of that, there’s no simple way to explain this to an interviewee. Indeed, they may not even know this tension exists.
Producer Monika Blackwell ran into this very issue. Monika was a student in a Transom Traveling Workshop on St. John in the Virgin Islands. Cheryl Geller, the woman she was profiling, was incredibly open and helpful. Sometimes too helpful. And that’s where the issues arose. On this episode of HowSound, Monika recounts her “negotiations” with Cheryl and we listen to the story she produced about Cheryl and her one-eyed rooster. The piece is called “Flock of Two.”