Sleepless in Dublin: Lessons in Journalistic Integrity

Jayna Rohslau puts her neck on the line to investigate reporting failures of the early 2000s and situate the key takeaways

If there’s anything I hate, it’s overly sentimental columns in which elderly twenty-somethings reflect wistfully upon their college experience. Nevertheless, as I prepare to leave Trinity, the time has come for me to write an overly sentimental column in which I reflect wistfully upon my college experience. In particular, journalism has proved pivotal for my personal growth within the last year.

Granted, I’m not twenty. Thus I thought it would be better advised to save the reflections for the actual wizened elders. Instead, I opted to conduct an investigation into best practices from real journalists. Anyone who knows me can attest that I am a bastion of journalistic integrity and a warrior in the fight against misinformation, which informed my selection of these three nonpartisan, unproblematic and highly factual documentaries. 

Don’t get involved when you have a preexisting conflict of interest

The first documentary testifies to the importance of ethical responsibility. We follow a seasoned cultural critic known for her unflinching and courageous coverage of the New York culinary scene who gets a tip that a man’s life is under threat. He’s about to make a shady deal, and no one but her realises his life is at stake. Thus she has a responsibility to weather this storm alone, fly into the windy city and report the scandal of the century.

She has a personal stake in the issue. She used to work with him, but that’s not the only issue. Troublingly, she has had a working relationship with this former colleague which exceeds the boundaries of the strictly professional. Still, our narrative subject is determined to clear his name from the scandal before he walks down the wrong aisle and faces annihilation. His interests are misaligned with the shady deal he is about to undertake, but he remains infatuated with the evil ways of his new business partner. 

One tactic she utilises to dissuade him is to fool this predator into performing badly at karaoke. Unfortunately, this terrible performance at karaoke serves as a chillingly effective exercise in corporate bonding. Our narrative subject also brings in her editor to impersonate her fiancee in a bid to raise the attention of the former colleague to an alternative possibility that has been right in front of him this whole time. This also fails.

A last-ditch attempt at an intervention takes place on a boat in which the journalist nearly saves the colleague’s life by selflessly revealing that his life is in danger and she is the only person capable of saving him from imminent doom through mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Despite this, he still seems set on ruining his life, and eventually, the journalist accepts that her intervention will not accomplish anything. She emerges from her covert role to give a moving speech and dances with friends at the funeral of her colleague in measured acceptance of his doom. 

This documentary, My Best Friend’s Wedding, reflects the reality that as an undercover journalist, it is imperative to be an unbiased observer of events. Even if you want to intervene in the stories you see unfolding, remember that you won’t attain the desired outcome. It doesn’t matter if you’re delusionally self-confident. It doesn’t even matter if you bear a curious resemblance to Julia Roberts. The rules are the rules for a reason. 

You should never put your heart before your headlines. Even when our narrative subject senses she would be able to save this former colleague’s life, she realises that accomplishing her aim would be pointless when the methodology has been unscrupulous. Although she realises the error of her ways, it’s too late. She has shown a singular lack of character in pursuing a story in which she has a clear conflict of interest. 

Maintain strong personal boundaries / Never give in to financial pressures 

This case study features a magazine journalist breaking new ground as she interrogates a fiery figure from a malevolent advertising firm. The interviews take place over a ten-day period at various public and private locations throughout New York City. The interview subject is dangerously charismatic and aims to sway her into supporting his political agenda. The journalist doesn’t realise this, but he has a financial incentive that will be completed if he manages to sway her as a representative of the media. 

Meanwhile, the journalist has a distinctly different aim that he does not realise: to manipulate him into hating her for a column. The tension throughout this narrative documentary revolves around the question: will they or won’t they succeed in sabotaging the other person’s career? 

After staging the first interview at his flat, the executive is convinced that he has the upper hand. However, adopting a fictitious undercover persona generates excellent content for the magazine journalist. Her behaviour genuinely takes the executive aback as he must respond to unconventional prompts and situations. 

Her interviews are collaborative efforts employing the local community. One high-pressure interview takes place in a crowded movie theatre. Upping the stakes, the audience vocalises their unhappiness at the interview being conducted during the film. Relentless in stamina, the journalist forces her subject to engage in hand-to-hand combat with an audience member, which adds an intriguing dimension of fear to their professional relationship.

Despite the journalist’s commendable dedication, her mission is also doomed to failure. The executive lures her into a false sense of intimacy through unprofessional interview settings, such as his family compound in Long Island where she is surrounded by allies. Her interviews become biassed. The lines between personal and professional ties become blurred. Tragically, the advertising executive has won over our interviewer. 

This turn of events serves as an ominous portent of the crushing weight of financial pressures on journalism these days. He crushes her career like a bug. It’s very sad. She can’t even retaliate through publishing an expose, which she also sings in karaoke form to emphasise her disgust upon realising his duplicity. Even following the series of interviews, when she’s pursuing a new job in Washington DC, he chases her taxi down and makes her return to face a future without nonpartisan reporting and thus no hope.

The documentary How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days speaks to the difficulty of navigating a field determined increasingly by corporate interests. It is all too easy to give in to the demands of an advertiser or outside authority, particularly when the advertiser looks like Matthew McConaughey from 2003. Yet the survival of local reporting depends on the strength of journalists who are hellbent on withstanding such sinister forces. 

Always maintain strong personal boundaries. This tip applies especially to choosing the right setting for interviews. For instance, it is inadvisable to have the first interview at his apartment, especially when Dawson has so many cafes.

Find Colin Firth

This famous nature documentary is set in the unpleasantly damp urban jungle of London. Our guide in this ravaged landscape is a highly versatile British publisher-turned-TV journalist seeking her path in the heart of darkness. Always meticulous, she documents her observations throughout the year. The specimens she observes are all exemplary of that highly volatile and predictable creature, the British man. She must choose between employing herself in the study of a flashy and non-monogamous species or Colin Firth.

I like you very much. Just as you are. You shouldn’t feel the need to dress up the facts. As cliche as it sounds, the most interesting story may be the one undressing right in front of you.

“I don’t regret sacrificing the currency of my youth at the altar of Trinity News. You should too”

Emerging from my research, I can confidently say that I don’t regret sacrificing the currency of my youth at the altar of Trinity News. You should too. Following in the footsteps of Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, these three women are the dauntless pioneers who have taught me everything I need to know about journalism. Break stories, not hearts.

Jayna Rohslau

Jayna Rohslau is the Arts and Culture Editor and is currently in her Senior Fresh year studying English in the Dual BA