Friday, October 16, 2009

How Much Do You Make? Fair Question ... Isn't It?

Sometimes I contact those interviewed by my reporting students to get the subject's ideas about how professional the students are. Recently, I got this response.

(She) was a pleasant interviewer except when she got to the question about my salary. In 35 years in Higher Ed I don't think I ever had a student ask me that question which I found most inappropriate.

I replied:

My responsibility! I *insist* students ask the question, if only to get used to being rebuffed. Sometimes it’s a useful piece of info, as is age. Of course, I don’t encourage students to ask those questions with an eye to getting a “refused to comment” into the story. Occasionally that’s appropriate, particularly with those in the public eye, but seldom otherwise.

I can imagine having a class full of tabloid types who ask rude irrelevant, even cruel, questions and need to be dialed back if only for their own safety. I have never had such a class. There are two big problems with U.S. journalism right now, I'd say.

One is inaccuracy. As (I think) Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, We are all entitled to our own opinions but not to our own facts. The second is timidity, self-censorship about what may be asked and what not. Fill up your notebook, I tell students. Just because you have it, doesn't mean you have to use it.


Anonymous said...

Sinatra (and he should know) considered THIS question worse than asking a man about his sex life. For real. (Hammill, Why Sinatra Matters)

....J.Michael Robertson said...

I like to think the list of those to whom I would have been afraid to pose a question would be pretty short. Would Sinatra have been on it? Hmmmmmm. How wise Gay Talese was to contrive a way to profile him without ever talking to him in his "Frank Sinatra Has a Cold." I heard him read part of it on NPR quite a few years ago now. It read wonderfully.