“There’s credibility at stake here,” documentary photographer and multimedia creator Allison Shelley said in regards to the ethical difficulties faced when reporting from the field. “We’re journalists," she said rather matter-of-factly.
Shelley along with three other Pulitzer Center grantees for the "In the Field" panel at the 2015 Washington Weekend examined journalism ethics in an age where everything is accessible—stressing the responsibility reporters carry when making judgments that are needed for transparency and adaptability as both ultimately beget credibility.
“All these lines that we make very neatly before we leave are very blurred when we get there,” Shelley told the 2015 student fellows.
For its second year, the Pulitzer Center hosted the Campus Consortium Student Fellows Washington Weekend on Friday, October 16 and Saturday, October 17. Throughout the weekend journalists from the field answered questions and provided insight for the 22 student fellows who gathered together in Washington, D.C., to present their reporting projects.
“It’s important to remember that when we’re working we’re essentially on our own,” Pulitzer Center grantee and photojournalist David Rochkind said. “There isn’t anyone looking over our shoulders—there isn’t anyone making sure that we do things correctly or making sure that we treat people with respect. We’re interacting with people that are in incredibly vulnerable situations who often see us in positions of power.”
To be open and honest about who you are, what your role is and the kinds of expectations someone should have when collaborating with you is a duty that can't be disregarded as a journalist, Rochkind added. The responsibility of the journalist reporting from the field is such that perpetuating stereotypes and being culturally sensitive is of a main concern.
“It’s a big responsibility but we can’t forget our humanity for the sake of a story,” Pulitzer Center grantee and Istanbul-based journalist Emily Feldman said. “You have to think of these people as your family members.”
When in the field the reporter is responsible for establishing trust. “In our drive to produce the best journalism possible we do have to remember to treat people honestly, we do have to remember to treat people with respect even in those instances when no one would know if we did,” Rochkind said.
“Once you are actually out there you can think that it’s quite easy to keep this morality but there are sometimes moments where you are tempted to break your own rules,” Feldman said. “I have to make rules for myself."
In journalism building relationships is key to good reporting.
“My goal is really to tell a human story,” Pulitzer Center grantee and Retro Report journalist Sarah Weiser said. “How do I boil all this down into something that’s personal?”
"You meet people who introduce you to people who introduce you to more people," Weiser said. "It's kind of like a game of dominoes."