Posted by: Melissa De Lyser | May 14, 2014

Honesty or rapport?

While empathy was not one of my top five Strengthsfinder strengths, it is something I used often in interviewing when I was a reporter.  Lindlof and Taylor talk about the importance of an interviewer establishing rapport with a participant.  Empathy is a very effective tool for this.  When interviewing domestic violence victims, for example, empathy comes easily.  When interviewing someone found guilty of domestic violence, empathy is nonexistent.  How do you build rapport with a criminal?  Is it ethical for an interviewer to pretend to empathize with a subject in the name or journalism or research?

Lindlof and Taylor point out that “rapport can exist even while we disapprove of the other person’s ethics, values, or conduct.”  I know that’s true – I lost count of how many times I resisted the urge to argue with a subject/source.  I also know that, despite my best efforts to remain objective in my reporting, an element of the disagreement/disgust I felt towards the subject – and, to be honest, myself for not challenging him/her – resulted in a biased report. My personal emotions and beliefs colored those articles.  I ask myself: Would it have been better, or at least more ethical, to challenge the subject, break the rapport and have no story? Or was it better to maintain the rapport even if the resulting story was not objective?

Things that keep me up at night…

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