The Dart Center Ochberg Fellowship Statement of ... - Melissa Sweet
The Dart Center Ochberg Fellowship Statement of interest from Melissa Sweet Freelance health and medical writer and journalist The responsibility of journalists and the media industry towards the people whose stories we tell is an issue that has long been of great interest to me. It has been relevant for my work at a number of levels. Firstly, as someone who has specialised in covering health and medical issues for many years, I have often interviewed people in traumatic situations, whether because they have received a cancer diagnosis, lost a relative to suicide or have a seriously ill child. I have also reported upon the devastation of entire communities, as per the attached feature about the impact of bushfires on the country NSW town of Junee. As journalists, we often rationalise our intrusion into other peoples’ distress on the grounds that helping people to tell their stories will help their recovery, especially if it leads to action which stops other such suffering occurring. Often there is some truth in this. But sometimes we may be exacerbating their distress by forcing them to relive traumatic events. Sometimes we are instruments of an industry which, it could be argued, mines and retails tragedy to its audiences. Sometimes the impact of telling peoples’ stories can be unpredictable and can have unforeseen consequences, both good and bad. The media industry is intensely competitive and journalists are under great pressure to produce. It is not always easy for us, no matter how conscientious and sensitive, to find that delicate balance of reporting peoples’ stories in a way that is respectful, honest and not exploitative. Amid the pressure of deadlines and ever-tightening newsroom resources, often there is not time or space for individual journalists to reflect upon these issues or to find professional guidance from others. As part of reflection about my own journalism practice, I have written widely over the years about the media industry, how it works and what this means for the subjects of its stories and coverage of various issues. These articles have been published in the general press, in professional journalism publications, and in health and medical journals and magazines.