I’m of the school of thought that journalism is best done on the streets. Not at a desk. Not over the phone. When you’re a journalist, your job is to get into the thick of the action — and that’s what Ethos reporters have done this year.
One of the most fun things about being Editor in Chief is seeing our reporters occasionally subject themselves — willingly, mind you — to “immersion” journalism. At times that leads to some hilarious situations arising from a student journalist, armed with a pen and notebook, chasing around a source or putting themselves within the scene. (I suppose a bit of schadenfreude begets narrative nonfiction writing.) Maybe I’m reading into it too much. Maybe it’s just fun to see your friends do something crazy.
When Travis Loose was assigned the Eugene Hash House Harriers story, Vol 7. Iss 1., about a local running club with a drinking problem (or is it drinking club with a running problem?), he looked back at me, blinked a few times, and said, “Okay.” He knew he’d have to run and drink with the Hashers, and that was just fine with him.
But after his first interviews, he briefed me about the ceremonial bedpan, bedazzled with rhinestones, from which Hashers apparently drink during rituals. He shifted in his seat, grumbling a bit. Maybe he regretted telling me about the “sacred vessel.” Too late. Dude, you’re drinking some bedpan beer. Now get out there.
When writer Kevin Mataraci told the Ethos senior editors that he wanted to explore alternative sleep cycles, we were fascinated but a bit apprehensive. He volunteered to put himself on a “polyphasic” sleep cycle for two weeks to see if it would increase his productivity. Some self-proclaimed sleep gurus on Reddit claimed it would. What followed was the quick deterioration of Kevin’s mental faculties (although no permanent damage, I promise) through sleep deprivation. Honestly, I was worried about him for a while. Don’t believe everything you read on the internet.
And then Rachel LaChapelle said she wanted to write about bugs being used as food. And you know what that means: you’re eating bugs. After some cricket tacos and meal worm fried rice, we had our cover story. Spoiler: crickets taste like cricket.
In many ways, “immersion journalism” should be called “empathy journalism.” Too often, we, the media, ask writers to use sources as a means to an end, justifying a storyline. Journalists should seek to humanize their sources, giving them dignity through faithful and thoughtful reporting.
Journalists immerse themselves in their subjects not to have fun or say, “I did that.” It’s to get a better understanding of what it’s like to be in someone’s shoes, even if we have to do it literally. We don’t drink from bedpans or sleep deprive ourselves or eat bugs because it’s a cool story. It’s about the “ah-ha” moments derived from those situations that help inspire putting pen to paper, telling the stories of life around us.