In this recent post, I advised “abject honesty” as a strategy, and several readers reacted positively to that. It surprised me that they felt it worth noting at all. Reminding journalists to be brutally honest with their bosses, their editors, their readers, and themselves shouldn’t be necessary. A single drop of deception can curdle a working relationship or scuttle a career, and as I suggest here, delivering unto your editor unpleasant news about a story’s progress early will not diminish you in her eyes, but rather elevate you. We are journalists, after all, and we are asking our readers to take our word for it every minute of every day. We need to guard especially against self-deception, that tendency try to convince ourselves that the story is really as good as we thought it was when we pitched it, that we can fudge that interview since it’s off-the-record anyway, that this one big dinner check we’re submitting for reimbursement could as easily have been for lunch with a source…. You can see where this is going. If you stick to the absolute truth about everything, you never have to worry about keeping your story straight. Let on to an editor even once that you’re not always 100% honest and you’re finished at that magazine. Amazing to feel it necessary to remind journalists of this, but temptations loom. The smart and the strong resist. Christ; if you’re going to be slippery with the truth, go into advertising and get properly paid for your immortal soul. We freelancers don’t get rich, but the good ones among us have our virtue intact.
Published by Dan Baum
A freelance writer for 30 years, I've written -- along with my wife and writing partner, Margaret Knox -- four non-fiction books, a daily column from post-Katrina New Orleans for the New Yorker's website, and lots of magazine articles. We also enjoying mentoring young and beginning writers. If you are eager to write for magazines or write a book, you might find my page of proposals helpful. View all posts by Dan Baum