Gang Wu, Journalistic Writing, Due October 19, 2004
Lester Bangs, William’s mentor leading him to greater success in rock journalism, is clear about the traps in the “industry of cool.” He repeatedly warned the cub journalist to keep a distance with those rock stars and publicist, because they would probably use him as a tool to gain their fame.
Here comes a problem. To gain access and the first hand information about his sources, the rock band, William had to immerse himself into their circle. This was achieved only by making friends with them, sincerely or not. But on the other hand, the deeper he was involved with the subjects in his story, the harder he would feel to write about the truth, especially what the musicians do not want the outside to know. William did make good friends with Russell, the charismatic lead guitarist, and Penny Lane, a beautiful and unusual groupie. The trust from Russell gave him precious chances to look into the inside of an upcoming rock band, and the true feeling of a “cool” rock musician. The question is that when your subjects become your friends, would you ask for their permission when you as a journalist try to report some unfavorable things about them? William did not ask them. Unfortunately his story was turned down by Rolling Stone when the editors were suspicious about his ability and made “fact check.” You can imagine how William felt when a 100 percent true story was dismissed as a fake.
There is another question. When do you know your sources are telling you the truth, when they are trying to manipulating you for his advantage? This requires a journalist to be very cautious about what his sources said. Russell once said to William, “… rock and roll is a lifestyle and a way of thinking and it's not about money and ‘popularity.’” Do you believe him in that case?
Lester taught William to be honest and unmerciful. But in the same time he taught William how to lie to the editor at Rolling Stone. “Tell him ‘it's a think piece about a mid-level band struggling with their own limitations in the harsh face of stardom,’” he told William on the phone. William told the exact words to the editor, with a faked adult voice in order to hide his age. So when should we be honest? To our sources? Our readers? Or our editors? I think we should be honest to all.
Loving the beat that you are covering will help you devote yourself into the reporting in this field. But being too involved, like William as a rock fan, may be a bad thing. He was excited when learning that working in this beat could mean free CDs. He could not help snatch the T-shirt of the band Still Water. In journalistic ethics, these things are considered bribery, which will probably hamper a journalist’s determination to be independent and objective.