There's an episode of Rob Rosenthal's amazing HowSound podcast that discusses the ethics of getting too close to your subject for a particular story. In Rosenthal's example, a story producer stays in the same motel room as her subjects. While this allows her to get an amazing bit of audio at a critical moment, it certainly blurs the lines for someone who is supposed to remain objective for the story.
I was thinking of that episode earlier tonight outside of Terminal A of Bradley International Airport. I was thinking of the blurred line when I turned off my field recorder and picked up a protest sign.
It all started with a few posts that came across my Facebook feed. Two Iraqis are being detained at JFK due to Trump's executive order. There are calls for protests at all the nation's airports. There's a protest going on a Bradly RIGHT NOW.
If you remember my previous blog post where I almost interviewed a member of the Ukrainian parliament, then it won't surprise you that I saw the opportunity for an interesting, topical podcast episode. I threw on a scarf and coat and rushed out the door. Fortunately, a few weeks ago, I packed my "field kit" (field recorder, headphones, and mic) in the back of my car for just such an emergency.
It started great. I got a few good interviews from the crowd of protesters. But there was only about fifteen protesters in all. I knew other people were on their way, maybe coming in fifteen or twenty minutes. So I decided to hang out in the background and wait for more potential interviewees.
And there I was, standing ten feet behind the protest line, recorder and microphone limp in my hands. The only person not holding a sign. I felt like an outsider, or worse, like a vulture as I had felt when I covered the primal scream in Hartford.
And so I rationalized. I've got a lot of issues with Trump's policies. I feel that barring all citizens of certain countries is un-American. All I'm doing at this moment is standing here doing nothing. Look, there's a ready-made sign on the ground right there.
Did I do anything ethically wrong? When I produce this episode tomorrow, will I be writing it differently from what I would write if I never joined the protest? Would the interviews I took after I put down the sign have been any different? (Yes, I returned to being a podcaster later on. Hello, blurred lines!)
Right now, at 1:30AM on a Sunday morning, a few hours after the protest, I think I did do wrong by joining in. You either report, or you don't.
I'm still going to produce the episode, simply because I like the idea of recording for posterity events that may otherwise fade from the public's memory. The whole reason for starting my podcast was to document the Colt Park Shrine, after all. But I'm going into this knowing that my reporting is probably going to be a bit un-objective.
Well.... I am doing all this to learn. So there's that.