notepadThere is a disconnect when you write the stories. That you have to ask to hear them in order to write them. Sometimes in the telling, the sadness bubbles back up to the surface for those who open up and tell.

I get that for the most part my layered understanding about the telling of what sits behind our usual exterior is deeper than some others – just by the very nature of my work I hear and feel the spaces that others aren’t always privy to. The shitty part of freelance writing is that in order to be successful (i.e make money) you have to first find the story, then pitch it, then write it, sell it in order to get the payoff – the byline and the bank balance.

And thats where I become unstuck. It’s an undeniable fact that trauma sells – the sadder the story the more a person is likely to ‘click through’ to read. We reason away the sadness by thinking that can never happen to me but you see Im yet to meet a person who knew tragedy was going to strike the day before it did.

It can happen to us. It does happen to us.

So am I part of this needy news-cycle? When I reach out to a person – because something they have shared or written or spoken about triggers that little part of my brain I think ‘now thats a story Id like to write!’ but more and more as I capture them and then try to find homes for them the space between what I think is ‘good’ gets turned into a commodity. It loses its sparkle.

Questions are asked about a persons authenticity, have they shared the story before, will they be willing to show photos, be named, give more detail? We want more than the story…we want a piece of a person.

Some times, more often than not lately I want to pull back. I want to tell the person to lie flat over their story, like my son does with the last biscuit he finds in the tin, to keep it for themselves. To be the master of their own storytelling.

So Im asking you, the reader, because I genuinely don’t know the answer. What should the duty of care be for the writers and in turn the editors for those people that populate the articles we reach out and consume. Should everyone tell their story? How do we value the ones we wish to keep quiet?

Do we care for the human element of our media stories enough or is their space for a little more discussion?


Join the conversation! 8 Comments

  1. Awwww…. I love this post, Sarah. You ask such great questions and I, too, struggle with how deep I should delve into a person’s story. I don’t have the answers but I’ll be watching this thread with interest!

  2. Viewing this dilemma from another perspective – I find that often people really want to tell their stories to someone who is both interested and values/respects it’s content. In many ways Sarah, I think we have a duty of care to be the transporter of that story to the general public. Where it does get messy is when we hand that story on to a third party and lose control over how that story is then edited, published and ‘marketed’. That’s where your blog is so valuable, you are able to maintain the connection between the story and its original narrator!

    • I love love love the word transporter Alison – you are very true. We are the vehicles for sharing. Hope you’re not trapped in a PhD loophole x

  3. I think this is interesting, particularly now I’ve been on both sides of the fence. As a radio producer I have asked people to share their difficult stories, and when my husband drowned in a rock fishing accident two months I found myself being asked to tell our story.

    At first there were no approaches from the media because they had (incorrectly) been told we didn’t want his name released. I ended up making contact with our local newspaper because I wanted to make sure we able to thank the police and lifesavers who had conducted the search that day. Turns out I was lousy talent and my kids ended up answering most of the questions and did a beautiful job.

    The radio station I do some casual work didn’t ask me to talk because they felt it would have been insensitive and I think I would have said no because I wasn’t up to a live radio interview. However, tomorrow I’m doing an interview on the Statewide Arvo show about how social media provided a lot of comfort during our tragic experience. Again, my decision was based more on wanting people to know the positive of social media and highlighting the online connections with both real and virtual friends who gave me such amazing support.

    So I guess, as long as the people effected have a reason why they want to talk, and if the interview is handled sensitively and kindly it can be part of the process of coming to terms with has happened.

    • Thanks for sharing this post on your page Janine – Im glad you’re at a stage where you feel you can talk and reflect on the ways we connect. I think that the idea of people wanting to talk is always your first sign but sometimes the post-talking conversation especially on social media can be difficult for people.

      Maybe the take home message for me is that if people want to talk then let them talk rather than worrying about them on top of that?

  4. “I want to tell the person to lie flat over their story.”

    Me too. Thank you for this post Sarah.

    It’s such an honour and privilege to visit someone’s story and have them share it with me, but I find it so difficult to hold that space between their expectations and what is eventually delivered in the final piece.

    I sometimes think that I’m not ready to hear their stories … that’s it’s not actually them, but it’s me who wants to lie flat because my ears are full.


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Loss, Mental health, Uncategorized


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