Mr. Daisey and the Fact Factory: my take at Grist

We interrupt this long blog-silence (more on which soon) to note that if you wanna know my take on the Mike Daisey/Apple/This American Life thing, I’ve just posted over at Grist on it.

My career started with writing about theater and specifically solo performance, moved into technology coverage, then took a turn into ethics and accuracy in journalism, and is now focused on sustainability and the environment. So Daisey’s story touched pretty much every one of my nerves.

Here’s an excerpt:

The temptation to round corners, to retouch images, to make a story flow better or a quote read better, faces every creator of non-fiction at every single moment of labor. And we all do it, all the time. We do it by varying degrees. We slice out “ums” from quotes. We leave out material we deem extraneous. No matter how much we verify of the facts that we think are salient, we can never verify everything.

But there are some compasses we can follow and some precedents we can observe. We don’t create composite characters (see: Janet Cooke) — or if we do, we explain exactly what we’re up to. We don’t say we’re reporting from one city when we’re sitting in another (see: Jayson Blair). We don’t simply invent stuff because it makes such great copy (see: Stephen Glass). We don’t invent a fake persona because it “makes people care” (see: Amina Araf).

The distinction between cosmetic changes and substantive fabrications is relatively easy to make. Storytellers get into trouble when they start to write themselves blank checks to “improve” on reality because the ends (in Daisey’s case, “making people care”) justify the means (in Daisey’s case, making shit up).

The whole thing is here.

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