Colin Barrett: Blog

Back to Colin Barrett's Blog

Castaway - Chapter 38

October 30, 2015
Posted at 2:16 pm

Once upon a time in my long-ago youth I used to be a news reporter. I gave it up for Lent-a Lent that, I'm happy to say, never ended for me-but I can still recall the techniques and priorities of the discipline.
Which are, I have to tell you, pretty much as I describe. You "open up" an interview subject by seeming to be his or her friend, agreeing with (or at least not openly disputing) pretty much anything he/she says, thereby inducing them to confide things they might otherwise prefer to conceal, and then you write the result up as you see fit. As the well-known Miranda warning goes, "anything you say can and will be used against you"; but, unlike the police, members of the so-called "third estate" aren't obliged to caution you in advance. The reporters are single-mindedly looking for a "story" that will be attractive to a public insistent on sticking its busybody nose into matters that are none of its affair, and shamelessly panders to that prurient interest without much regard to whom their reportage may hurt.
I quit the profession after I was asssigned a job I found especially distasteful. A wealthy man had been found dead in Florida, and his widow had been arrested for the murder. She had two young children (as I recall, from a previous marriage) who, enterprising reporters at the scene had discovered, were flying out of the area to relatives elsewhere. The plane was scheduled to stop briefly in the Alabama city where I was working at the time, and my superiors told me to board the plane and try to interview these two kids, who were in their teens, for God's sake. I was supposed to get their own words for how they felt about the situation. I mean, their dad (or step-dad, I suppose) was dead, and their mom was accused of killing him, now how do you suppose they felt about all this? That was why they were being shipped away-to avoid all the nosey-parkers who were badgering them with such stupid and intrusive questions. Anyhow, I was too young and new to the job to outright refuse the assignment (besides, if I had, they'd simply have assigned somebody else, maybe somebody a lot more aggressive that I was prepared to be), so I got on that plane, found the two kids, identified myself to the older and simply asked "Do you have anything to say?" I got the negative I expected, told her "thank you," and walked back off the plane. Not exactly the kind of interviewing technique I'd been taught, but I wasn't about to use those techniques to harrass a couple of distraught children for the edification of readers who get off on schadenfreude (it's a German word that roughly translates to the fine art of taking pleasure from others' misfortunes). Soon afterwards I found another profession.
Yes, there's good to be found in news reporting; it isn't all negative. But I can still remember stories of news reporters chasing Marina Oswald (widow of the deceased Kennedy assasin Lee Harvey Oswald) across Texas at speeds said to have reached a dangerous 80 mph for the sole purpose of witnessing her subsequent remarriage to someone else. Never mind the benefits the nation realized from such as the Watergate investigative journalism, I'm still glad I left the field.
That's the kind of thing that Marilyn acted to protect Nick against.
Oh, the "Farley file." That's for real, and so's the back-story I use in the novel. Most contemporary politicians follow Roosevelt's lead, as do many in other disciplines that entail meeting a lot of people. It's a good way on ingratiating yourself with people you don't really know very well.