A few days ago I finally contacted a soldier, who I will name John, who will be the main focus for my individual story on PTSD.
Though the interview was wonderful, and he opened up to me a little about his experiences, he mentioned an issue that made me surprised that he had volunteered to speak with me.
John told me how when he was a young man deploying to Iraq, a journalist came up to him while he was leaving and asked, “This is a heck of a price to pay, isn’t it?” John said “Yes it is a heck of a price to pay, but its worth it you know? This is what we signed up for.” The next day, the headlines read “Soldier Says “Its a Heck of a Price to Pay!”” and there was no mention of John’s qualifier. Not only was he led into an answer, but he was completely misquoted.
To me, this is the most unethical thing you can do as a journalist. When someone volunteers to speak with you, you have a duty to them, yourself, and even just the story to make sure you quote in context. I was amazed he was willing to speak with me.
When I asked him why he was willing to give me a second chance, he emphasized the importance of this story to him. It brought home to me how important getting factual information out about PTSD is. Even though he’d already been burned, and badly, by a journalist, he was still willing to speak to me because of the subject matter.
Ethics are important, especially with quotes. If you misrepresent a subject once in a small community, word gets around. If I ever had any doubts about if I could get away with that, those doubts are now completely gone. Ethics matter, and every student journalist should remember that.