>As a reporter, I usually get asinine comments from people I talk to. Whenever they make these comments, they immediately follow with, “Don’t put that in the paper” or “How can I make this sound right?”
I also have people tell me how to write my stories. These are usually the parents of children who are being profiled or people who are doing some feel-good project for a deserving family.
Whoever they may be, I’ve learned that people have an inherent mistrust of reporters. They may not have ever talked to a reporter or have had anything printed about them.
During an instant message conversation I had with one of my Windows Live Messenger friends, he asked me, “What if they misinterpret what I said?” This kid, who has never talked to a reporter, inherently believes his thoughts will be misrepresented if he talks to the press.
What is it that has caused people to develop a preconceived notion about the accuracy of reporters? Well, we all know the past two decades have been filled with scandals of reporters fabricating their quotes and sources and completely making up interviews. These instances get maximum coverage from the media because, as we all know, the media loves to critique itself.
What’s ironic about the public mistrust is people only complain about the press when their comments are critiqued by friends and relatives. Their comments can be accurate, but when their comments contradict the opinions of those around them, people start complain about the media taking their comments out of context.
A prime example of this is stories about government scandals, especially on the local level. The public official complains his comments were inaccurate whenever he’s scrutinized by bureaucrats who want to keep the status quo. To take the heat off what they said, the public official then complains that those damned reporters can’t be trusted and that they always get things wrong.
Dealing with these cases have taught me to become wary of people who are too eager to tell me how to do my job or who say, “Don’t put that in the paper,” every time they say something that’s not politically correct. These people will be the ones I interview as a last resort.