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The Gold Standard of Ethics

By Terry Farish

I couldn’t leave Jack Hart. I stayed with him for two sessions, “Ethical Narrative Reporting and Writing in the Post-Jayson Blair Era” and “Shaping Realities: The Ethics of Framing the World With Narrative.” He was talking about all the things I have been struggling with for two years. I want to keep him with me, or would he take me back to Oregon? All these questions I have spun round and round with.

Attribution? Jack says go ahead with it, even if it’s clunky in the storytelling; it reassures. Reconstruction of a scene when the writer isn’t there? OK, if clearly set up and attributed. Assumptions? Of course, that’s what they pay you for. Just be aware. Does what you see warrant the assumption? Or is it your own autobiography filling in the gaps? (My paraphrase, Jack Hart, who I want to write for.) “We are fragile vessels,” Jack says; we have selective perception.

“It’s never OK to deceive the reader,” Jack says. I find that a measure I can hold on to. Jack gave a history of piping, a not uncommon practice in earlier days, “making up stories out of old cloth.” Most of all Jack says, narrative writing has every reason to be questioned since there are so many opportunities for ethical lapses. Read Walt Harrington, Jack suggests. “This guy’s the gold standard.”

Terry Farish writes novels, including If the Tiger, and is at work on a nonfiction book about teenagers from Sudan. She teaches writing at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies.

Posted in attribution & sourcing, ethical reporting, sessions.Ethical Reporting Post-Jayson Blair, sessions.Ethics of Framing the World with Narrative, speakers.Jack Hart on December 12, 2003 at 05:14 PM | Permalink