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Media beware: Interview subjects have an audience, too Add to ...

"In the age of the internet, women in countries far away who used to be the objects of white people's gaze with no right of reply now have access to the representations that are made of them, and the technological means to answer back." - statement from a group representing sex workers in India

One of the scariest things that can happen to a journalist - besides being shot at or murdered, which happens occasionally - is when sources or subjects come back at us to vigorously protest the way they appeared in our articles. It doesn't happen that often, but many of us, especially nowadays, are not the callous press-hat-wearing, scoop-hungry Neanderthals that we often seem like in movies. Though, the pressures of deadline and space constraints often means we have to take a chainsaw to nuance.

In the past, across the global north, a source's only real retribution would be the venerable Letter to the Editor, which would take a full 24 hours to appear in the next days paper, in a place much less prominent than the original story. In the global south, subjects sometimes just kill the reporters.

Then came e-mail, and we began to fear the "morning of," when you'd wake up the morning after an article runs to find your inbox full of vitriol (though, sometimes, a pleasant note, or offer of financial help.) Then came Facebook, where people would start a Facebook group to counter the impression you gave of them in an article (this has happened to me).

Do you see where this is going?

Then came Twitter. There's been a few famous ones already, but there can be really nasty reactions to journalists' portrayals of subjects. Here is (likely) the most famous: Where M.I.A. tweeted the writer's cell number.

Now, in what has to be the most dramatic (and awesome and inspiring) incident, a group of sex workers in a very impoverished neighbourhood of India has protested their portrayal in a Vice Magazine documentary by making their own video and posting it online. If this isn't a great use of technology to tip the scales of justice in favour of the meek, then I'm not terribly sure what is.

 

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