Getting it Right: A Survivor's Perspective
Use the shooter's name sparingly, with purpose, and instead focus on the survivors. Avoid salaciousness, but don't sugarcoat the facts. Be gentle, but understand that no matter what, asking a survivor to retell his or her story opens up old wounds.
Click below to watch a video of the full conversation, and scroll down for an edited Q&A.
The True Cost of Gun Violence, by Mark Follman featuring Jennifer Longdon.
Bruce Shapiro: In the world of trauma psychology, we hear a lot about the survivor mission. It's a distinct phenomenon, people who encounter enormous violence and cruelty and adversity, and who respond in part by undertaking some great labor designed to give this event meaning bigger than the physical or psychological wounds that they carry away from it.
When I think of the concept of the survivor mission, it's hard to think of a better exemplar than Jennifer Longdon, who in 2004 went through some very difficult events and who has emerged as a survivor expert on gun issues, both as a gun owner and as a survivor advocate.
She is also someone who has worked effectively in partnership with journalists, including Mark Follman from Mother Jones. We’re going to engage in a three-way conversation now.
Let me start off asking you to talk a little bit about how you began to engage not only with your own needs, but with the broader issue of guns as a public issue. How did that happen for you?
Jennifer Longdon: Well, it happened in part because I had nothing but time. Being paralyzed I had nothing but time to lie down and stare at a ceiling and think and come to some conclusions. When we were shot, although there was a period of time where I was in a medically induced coma in ICU, whatever was going on in the world really didn't matter to me at that point. I learned later that we were part of a raging eight-day news cycle; nothing better to talk about here in the Valley that week, apparently.
After I was released from the hospital and starting to go about my life, there would be people that would say, “Oh, you're the one,” “Oh, weren't you that martial artist that got shot?” And then they'd get part of it right and enough of it wrong that I ended up having to speak about it. About six months later, law enforcement asked me to do a series of interviews hoping that we would generate some information that would help solve the case. It's never been solved.
But in doing those interviews I learned a lot about journalism. Actually, I learned why I hated journalism. Some of it was intrusive, some of it was manipulative, and some of it was downright dishonest. And I learned that if I was going to be stuck doing this, I had to learn how to do it right. And I don't know that I do, but I think I'm better at it now than I was six months after the injury.
BS: And what about taking on gun violence as a political issue, not just as a personal one. How did that happen?
JL: You know, I was asked once to speak about my injury. It was at a fundraiser. They were trying to build some ramp for something somewhere else in the city. And someone came up and started shaking their finger in my face about being a gun grabber, because I mentioned that I'd been shot; and I don't take to that very well. So, again, out of that came this need that if these things are going to happen, then I have to learn to talk about it and talk about it well. And I feel that I do have some moral authority to speak on this issue. You know, a lot of people can talk about what they think would happen in a situation and it's all hypothetical. But I can tell you what really happens when bullets start flying.
BS: What do you wish journalists knew about what happens when bullets start flying or afterwards? What's the piece we usually miss?
JL: Well, I really have trouble with the sensationalism, how salacious it sounds. It becomes violence porn in a lot of cases, and that's very difficult to hear. In terms of mass shootings, the ones that make breaking national news, there is this obsession with the shooter – every detail about them, their Facebook page and all of these images of them. That's really hard for me, and I think that media does us a disservice when they make the shooter sexy. Cut it out.
BS: Can you expand on that?
JL: Well, the trial going on right now in Aurora, the movie theater shooting; that was one that I certainly watched unfold from a different perspective than I had in the past, less as a victim and more as a person who comments. And my phone started ringing right away. But watching those images of the shooter, watching the coverage of that trial now, a lot of people talk about the shooter and about all these interesting details, and they show those pictures with the red hair.
My friend Karen Teves, her son Alex was murdered in the theater, and she's launched a campaign called ‘No Notoriety’. Quit using his name. How many times in the story do you have to say his name? Can we just start with his name, the defendant in the trial, blah blah blah, and then for the rest of the story talk about the shooter or the defendant? That would be helpful.
BS: A lot of us, pretty much everyone in this room, consciously or not, strives to do a kind of survivor-centered journalism in one way or another. It’s one of the things that bring people to us here. And a lot of us have struggled with this question of how to portray perpetrators and how much to portray perpetrators. There was a mass shooting in Germany a few years ago in the town of Winnenden, and I spent some time at the local newspaper there. The editor made the decision to not use the name of the shooter at all in the coverage, which would be impossible to imagine in the United States. Some of the families in Newtown, some of the families in Colorado have made the same strong suggestion or demand. Don't use the name at all. Would you go that far?
JL: I'd like you to use it as little as possible. I'd like you to not make them infamous. I'd like you to not create a situation where the Sandy Hook shooter has this dossier up on his walls of all of these infamous shooters that he's studying and looking to emulate. I don't think that's helpful in any way.
BS: When you've had encounters with journalists that have gone well, including even early on in the first months, what were the components where you thought this person treated me well, this story was good, and you came away feeling either okay or even enhanced rather than stained or furious?
JL: Well, I think that there is this disconnect right away. You have a job to do and a deadline. For me, this is the first time I'd ever encountered it. I had no reason to talk to reporters before. But to suddenly have reporters in your face with microphones and probing questions. It’s hard. The best reporters have been kind. They've been quiet. They've explained the process of what's about to happen, because it's new to me, and now I understand it. We have a loose network where we help each other. We say, “You're going to do an interview, well, think about this,” or “This is going to happen, and when they ask you this, you don't have to answer.”
One of the most intrusive things that happened in that eight-day cycle when I was first shot was that they knocked on the doors of all of my neighbors. Some journalist tried to get into my hospital room in intensive care. And it didn't take long to figure out that I had a school-age child and what school my child went to. One of the local networks went to my son's school the day he went back to class to try to get pictures and to interview all the people there. My son was 12. And I hated journalists after that for a long time. It took a long while for me to develop any kind of trust. My son was 12, and someone wanted to go ask him about his mommy getting shot. That's disgusting.
BS: And with stories that you thought went okay, what did they tend to focus on?
JL: They were fact-based. They gave me room to talk about my experience, my feelings, whatever that might be. And, again, the word that comes to mind, they were quiet. That's what you’ve done too, Mark, we've asked questions, we went places in the time that we spent together that I've never allowed a journalist to go, and in part it was because you were kind and you were quiet and you gave me room to think it through, and maybe take a minute to regain my composure before we went any further. That's helpful.
Mark Follman: I just wanted to share a couple thoughts about the question of focusing on the shooters vs. the victims. I think we could spend hours just discussing that. It's a huge and important question, and a very worthy debate. I've focused on this subject intensively for three years now and it started with mass shootings. The first big project I did was building a database of mass shootings and thinking about it forensically. And I think that's an imperative with gun violence. If that's the reason you're focusing on the shooters, that's important. But there's a line that can be crossed very easily and I think some journalists and publications probably do it without even realizing it.
It’s people like Jen and other survivors I've gotten to know who really helped me evolve my thinking on this question. A young woman named Christine Anderson who was one of the victims that survived the Virginia Tech mass shooting, I met with her early on in some of my reporting and she really impressed upon me the need to tell victims' stories more, to allow the focus to be more on the victims, at least equally if not more. I think there are some questions of how you balance that with your mission as a journalist to explore information that is important to the public debate and to shed light on an issue.
There's a lot of reason to report on James Holmes whose trial is going on right now. I just put up a story on Mother Jones today about some things in his diary that speak to the debate over so called “gun free zones.” In my view that is a kind of forensic focus that is not only deserved but necessary, and so I'm writing about him and I'm naming him in that story and the focus is on him and not the victims. But it's with a very specific purpose. And at the same time it’s important to always ask those questions when covering this subject. Am I saying his name too many times? Am I focusing on him too much? Where that balance is can change, and my thinking on this question has changed over time. But just being aware of it alone is a great start.
BS: Jen, let me ask you something. You've been here all day, so you've heard the expert briefings and the questions folks have. As a survivor, as an advocate, when you are hearing these kinds of statistics and number go by, where do you put yourself? Are you looking at this as a framing of you? How do you relate to all of this?
JL: Well, none of the numbers I heard today were a surprise to me. I think that data is important in this discussion. It can't be a hysterical conversation, like “I got shot so guns are bad.” If we're having a public policy discussion, it’s important to understand what it is we're talking about. So that hasn't been an issue for me at all. But what I have been sitting over here watching inside myself from outside myself, or however, is that as the other presenters have talked about different shooting events that have happened, I’ll think, that's my friend Pat you're talking about. Oh, that was Roger. Oh, that's Mary, that's Karen. And, you know, these are full dimensional people to me. I laugh with them, I cry with them. And I think that's what I really need you to remember: that we're not just these flat subjects you need to get information from and move on. Even now Mark was very gentle in telling my story in the time we were together. We set parameters. He brought a colleague with him who was equally great, and we'll talk about James in a minute. But I still paid a price afterward for having done the story. It takes a toll. For me it's this cost-benefit analysis. Is what gets out worth the price that I'm going to pay? In this case it was. But many times – I'm approached regularly to do stories and I turn them down. I've turned down I don’t know how many, a lot. I do way fewer stories than I'm asked to do.
BS: Mark, what about your videographer, is that who you brought with you?
MF: Yeah, my co-producer on this film that you just saw, James West, who I have to give a shout out to, he's an amazing filmmaker. He worked the camera, did the editing and was just a wonderful collaborator on this whole project.
BS: Actually, for any victim of crime or survivor of violence, having a big video camera present can be one of the most daunting parts of the journalism thing. What went right there from your point of view? What makes you think that piece of it went well?
JL: It was the prep that we did in advance. The parameters that we set that Mark promised he would abide by. And part of that was languaging around how you talk about my disability. One of the big rules was you can never say “confined to a wheelchair,” “wheelchair bound,” and if I find any of you doing it I will hunt you down. The National Center for Disability in Journalism is right here at Cronkite, please look at their study guide.
BS: What’s alternative language that journalists can use?
JL: I'm a person who uses a wheelchair. I am paralyzed. I am lots of things, but I'm not “wheelchair bound.” And that takes me to something I started to say earlier. In your reporting, one of the things that I often see is that journalists will sugarcoat. While there’s salaciousness, there's also sugarcoating. Like for example, as the Sandy Hook anniversary comes up reporters will talk about the “lives lost.” Those children were murdered. They were killed. They weren't “lost.” Their parents aren't going to go find them somewhere in Georgia or Disneyworld. They're dead. And trust me, their parents know that their children are dead. They know they're not lost somewhere. I can see that I've shocked some people by saying that, but I think that when you sugarcoat the language you soften what these shooters have done in a way that's unfair to us. So I would ask you not to. It wasn't “the incident.” I didn't have “an accident.” I was shot by somebody with a gun. I prefer the more straight on language.
Audience member: You said you speak with a lot of other people who were shooting victims. Do you find that they feel the same way in that they would like to have more honest verbiage in stories?
JL: Well, we’re certainly not a monolith, but the individuals that I spend a great deal of time with I think would agree. Actually I know they agree. We'd like to see more sensitivity in how you speak to us, but some reality. When you say that my loved one was lost, you denigrate what happened.
MF: If I could just add to that briefly, I think Jen expressed this well earlier that something she really valued was understanding the process a bit, especially for a more in depth kind of story. I spent a lot of time thinking about how we would do this, and then talking with Jen about how we would do this. For me one of the governing principles was when you're dealing with a subject like this, try to do no harm. Will anything I'm going to ask for or do hurt her in some significant way? I mean, she has PTSD. This is a very intense thing to get into with somebody personally.
I had raised the idea of maybe going to a gun range. You can see the obvious narrative power that that might bring to a film, but I was kind of nervous to talk to Jen about that. When we talked, she said, “I'm not saying no but, that's a delicate request, and I can't say exactly how it'll go.” My takeaway from that was no, I'm not going to go there. It's just not worth the risk of what might happen to her or anyone else around. So, I'm not going to just try to chase the most dramatic story at risk of that. Period. I thought about it a little bit more. I talked with my colleagues in San Francisco. And then I had the idea, maybe we'll ask Jen to take us to the scene where it happened. And then James and I decided in talking with one of the editors in chief, let's just go to Phoenix and see how it feels and then we'll ask if it feels right, and I thought that makes a lot of sense. Turned out that Jen offered before we even got to Phoenix. She said, “Hey, I'll take you to the parking lot,” and we said, “Okay, great, let's do it.”
JL: I think it was my peace offering when I told you I wouldn't go to the gun range. We're not into shooting but I'll show you where I got shot.
MF: So I think engaging a source or a subject that you're trying to develop a relationship with for a story in that way is invaluable. It shows them respect and care for their story and it also helps you figure out what the story is. I didn't know that we would do that video. I had no sense that that’s where we were going to go until she suggested it and then we started talking about what that was specifically, and James and I started talking about how we would produce it, and that's also the joy of discovering and telling a powerful story. You often don't know what it is until you’re finding your way into it, and I think engaging your subject in this way is invaluable towards that.
Audience member: You mentioned that you paid a price for doing this story. What was that outside of additional requests from journalists?
JL: Although Mark and James were very gentle, they asked very probing questions, pieces that many times I'd like to not think about on a regular basis, and certainly it awakened some PTSD. The way that I describe it often is when you come and ask me to tell my story, however gently you're asking me, there's a part of me that hears, “Hey Jen, would you do me a favor, would you open an artery so we can watch you bleed?” We're talking about the night that my entire life changed. I was shot and I thought I died. My fiancé was shot in the head. I lost a big part of him and we don't talk a great deal about that, and I care not to. But every aspect of my life changed that night, and to drag it out and sit and play with it hurts. I drank pretty heavily for a couple of days after that.
Audience member: What sort of a response did you get from the public? You mentioned that someone, some woman approached you, called you a gun grabber…
MF: That was just the tip of the iceberg.
JL: Whenever I poke my head up in public, I can expect that I will get a response. It's like kicking an anthill. This story wasn't as bad. Or wasn't as bad as I expected, and I was really concerned this time.
MF: We talked about that a lot, too.
JL: We talked about that in advance because Mark and I did another story, that's how we met. He interviewed me as part of a different story and I hadn't expected how viral that would go.
MF: But that story is what you were asking about, which is people harassing gun violence prevention advocates, including Jen. She became a central piece of that story and was harassed in much more intense and serious ways for that.
JL: I get death threats, rape threats. They come through Facebook, through Twitter, through the mail. I'll have indications, little gifts left and I know that the message is, “Hello, Jennifer, I know exactly where you live.” These sorts of things. It can be very intense. It can be very intense when it's happening. And that's part of why I pick and choose which stories I'll do.
Audience member: That's exactly where I wanted to go. What I’m curious about is how your thoughts or needs or feelings have changed from when this first happened, when you were being approached for interviews till now. Did you want different things when it first happened than you do now? What advice would you give journalists when the incident is freshest, and then later on in follow up stories?
JL: I think the thing that has changed most is that I've developed some experience. I ask different questions now than I did before. I think Mark can attest to this. I ask, “Is this print or broadcast?” All of a sudden they know that they're dealing with someone different. I almost sound like a public information officer sometimes. “How long is your piece? Where's it going to be aired? What are you doing with it?” I ask different questions than I ever did before. I now feel free to set parameters. This is the National Center on Disability in Journalism Style Guide, make sure you read it before you come speak to me. Ten years ago I wouldn't have felt that I could do that. So I think that's what's changed, I recognize that I can play a part in shaping the parameters of the story. And I recognize the value of journalism; that you have a job to do. So what I try to do is protect myself as the subject of a story, but at the same time I recognize that you're trying to put out the best possible product and I think I’ve gotten better at figuring out how to help you do that without hurting myself in the process.
BS: On this question of the passage of time, has what you want politically, what you feel yourself advocating for changed over the last 10 years?
JL: Yes, absolutely. When I first started talking I wanted justice. Actually when I first started talking maybe I wanted vengeance. Then I wanted justice for myself.
BS: Justice meaning what?
JL: I wanted the individuals responsible for shooting us caught, tried, convicted, punished, put below the jail, never to be heard of again. I moderated that over time. I think I was more extreme in my views on gun reform early on. You know, I had been a gun owner, I still am a gun owner, but then I was this victim of crime, and for a while my views were a little more extreme, and that was certainly related to the trauma of my injury and the trauma of everything it cost us.
I think that as I've gotten some distance, as I've gotten a thicker skin, and you get that from journalists, thank you very much, and from legislators who will look you in the eye and say incredibly blunt things, I think that I've gotten more practical in what I want.
Audience member: I want to revisit this idea of naming the perpetrator. I've found that the families of the victims of the Gainesville student murders kept saying that we were using his name way too much. Is it a matter of power as a victim, you've been victimized once and now you are losing power to this unnamed person who's gaining this. Could you talk a little bit more in depth about the issue of naming? As journalists we have to name the perpetrator, but how do we avoid hurting you further by doing so?
JL: Right, but how many times in the story do you have to say their name? Let’s talk about Aurora because that's currently what's going on. I imagine that if you're writing a story you have to start with the name, James Holmes or whatever your lede is. But for the rest of the story do you have to continue to use his name? You’ve already identified him, so can't he be “the shooter” for the rest of the story, or the “alleged shooter”? Can't he be called “the defendant” or some other terminology along those lines?
I'm going to ask Mark the same, but being the victim of a violent crime, it's a huge violation, and to say that is such an understatement to almost sound trite. I think that putting their name out there over and over and over again, it's victimizing all over again. And I don't know how that furthers your story. So now I've come to read these things from this different point of view, less as a victim and less as a news consumer and more from this critiquing process.
MF: I've come to think that the literal debate about naming the shooter and how much their name appears is in some ways academic. I think it's more the overall framing and feel and tone of the story, what is the focus of the story, what's the purpose, and then are you staying within the bounds of that in using the shooter's name?
I think it's a tough balancing act sometimes, but if the thrust of the story is true to its purpose and there aren't aspects that seem gratuitous about that individual, it can be tough not to name. I think the story I put up today uses his last name repeatedly because it's a story about him, his diary. To me it seems appropriate to the subject.
BS: I ought to say, this is actually a worldwide debate. For example, in Australia not too long ago was the fifteenth anniversary of the Port Arthur shootings, and on that anniversary there were a number of survivor groups that asked the Australian news media not to use the name of the shooter. And behind the scenes the Dart Center actually ended up mediating some conversation to try to figure this out because they were not going to do an anniversary story without naming and yet there was this very strong argument.
I think the articulated reason is very often” these are crimes committed by individuals seeking notoriety and we should not reward them with notoriety. That argument has led Dave Cullen, who wrote "Columbine," the great account of the Columbine shootings, to himself now argue that we should be avoiding the use of names, to which I said to him, well, how are you going to write your book? I think it is partly a surrogate issue. Jen and Mark would say it's a surrogate issue for everything else that's imbalanced and goes wrong in the journalism/victim encounter. I also think it’s a surrogate for something else, which is that in surviving a hideous violent crime or something like it is among other things an enormous loss of control. You lose control of everything except sometimes the story.
And the question of whose story it is, whose news is this, who should be the subject of coverage is often the unspoken issue. I'm not proposing I have an easy answer for that.
MF: My answer to this has really become that it is a holistic process of making the story. So whether it's the name or it's the big Joker hair face of James Holmes in your story, do we need that now? We saw that a lot after the event. I'm not sure we need that now to talk about the trial.
I understand Karen’s idea and pushing for not using the shooter’s name. There's a very powerful symbolic statement in that. It may not be entirely practical to the work of journalism. I understand where it's coming from but I think it speaks to that broader framing of the work you're doing. It strikes me too, Jen, as a really interesting question since in a certain sense you'd like to be able to name the person in your case. Because we don't know who it is.
JL: I'd love to be able to point to someone.
MF: That's the other end of the spectrum, right, there is no shooter to name, and that tells you why we do it in the first place, to some degree.
JF: Actually, I have a quick little experiment. So today we've talked several times about the January shooting in Tucson, that's how we refer to it here, “the January 8 shooting” or the Tucson shooting. I've heard a number of people call it “the Gabby Giffords shooting.” Do you know how many people were shot that day?
Audience member: 19.
JL: There were 19 people shot, right? Can you name anyone besides Gabby?
Audience member: The federal judge, I don't remember his name.
JL: Judge Rollins, yes. But the question I always think about, and I know many of those people now because I’m so immersed in this as a subject. But what I sometimes think about is, I wonder what it feels like to be a member of the Stoddard family, to hear this referred to as the Gabby Giffords shooting, as though their own family member has just been completely erased from the face of the earth. They don't even count. You think their loss is any different than any of the others? I get that some stories are apparently easier to tell. Christina Taylor Green, again her parents are friends of mine. I get why you zeroed in on her story. But again, when we talk about Gabby and we talk about Christina and that judge, how does it feel to be the Stoddard family?
BS: And that makes me want to ask you something. One of the other challenges that reporters face in covering the aftermath of mass shootings but also covering survivor advocacy, victim advocacy and so on, is that there are some victims who are very comfortable talking to the press, who are good at it. Of which you are…
JL: I will say that I think I've gotten good at it. But I'm not comfortable with it.
BS: Fair enough, but you are clearly an accessible, articulate public voice. And I guess the question is how we balance, how do you think we should balance working with people like you who put themselves out there with people like your friends who are forgotten in this? How do we avoid creating a narrow group of professional survivors who are the only voices heard?
JL: Ouch, that hurts, being a “professional survivor,” and I know that wasn't your intent. I don't know. I get that when something happens you want people to talk, and I get that you develop a Rolodex of resources to do that. I've kind of gotten to a place where, again, I don't talk to that many people anymore. I certainly got overexposed after the Sandy Hook shootings with a lot of the advocacy we were doing. I was on every news channel multiple times and I'm sick of hearing my voice. I have to imagine the rest of the Valley is too. I don't have a good answer for you. I'm sorry.
BS: No, it's a struggle for all of us.
Audience member: A lot of times I think some of these insensitive questions are driven by editors and producers who don't have to go out and actually ask that question. And as a journalist speaking truth to power is really turning around to an editor sometimes and saying, “I'm not asking that question.” And that's hard to do because that's your boss.
BS: Have you ever counseled a journalist to do that? Have you ever told a journalist to go to hell?
JL: Me? Yeah. I think the media here in the Valley, I mean this is, what, I don’t know, a midsize market? I certainly know my way around all the media outlets here in the Valley and they all know how I feel on certain things. And these are folks that I see outside of these roles. Some of them are my friends. Some of them come to my home. And they know exactly what they can ask and what they can't. And sometimes I'll be watching a news story and I'll pick up a phone and call someone at home and say, “I can't believe you guys put that on the air. You suck.”
Audience member: Can I follow up on my colleague's question? Mark, I feel like that was a really important point you were making that often it’s people back at the shop making demands and the journalists are on the ground having a very different experience and struggling with this tension. I’m wondering if you could talk about navigating that as a journalist and also covering trauma and traumatic situations, really understanding the story because you're sharing someone's story. It requires time. In this era of the one-man band journalist, sometimes time is not really there. So how do you navigate talking to editors and getting more time, like making a huge special project out of the situation?
MF: Yeah, I'll try to give you a quick answer and we can talk more about it tomorrow. But the first part in terms of the relationship with the editor: I don’t know that I'm a great person to ask because I work with remarkable people who are very supportive and collaborative and I can push back on anything I want. If you're not in a position to do that, I guess you have to pick your battles, but if you're put into a position where you feel like you're doing something morally or ethnically wrong, I would put my foot down. Maybe that's not the best place for you to work if that's what's going on. In terms of time, in some ways this project was the culmination of many stories I’d done over the last three years. So in that sense it was the time of cumulative work, and I think by the time we got to this project, the question of how much does gun violence cost, or what does gun violence cost, really started for me with Aurora when I began doing all the reporting on gun violence.
I think buy-in from my bosses and my collaborators was obviously essential. Once everyone agreed that this was an important thing for us to do and we're going to invest in it, then that time was there. But there's still the day-to-day, right. I have a lot of demands on me with quick stories and people I'm editing as well. I'm the reporter on this primarily but how to balance that mix is a pretty unwieldy question these days. So maybe more on that tomorrow.
Audience member: Some people respond well to being asked about their loved ones who have been hurt or killed. They say they want to have an opportunity to talk about it, talk about their experience, and some people really don't want the media to contact them in any way at all. How would you suggest going about it in a way that doesn’t further traumatize?
JL: There's not a single formula for who's going to talk and when’s a good time and this sort of thing. But based on what I heard, within the first 24 hours, my friends, my loved ones didn't even know if I was going to live or not, and there were news crews at the front door, the lights on and a microphone being thrust in the door as they're answering. I think that perhaps if someone had knocked, if they had come up first without the equipment and said, “Hi, I'm from whatever news outlet and we'd like to talk to you,” or “Jen, could I ask you a couple of questions. I understand this is a difficult time, whatever.” Show a little sensitivity first. That would have been the way to do it. Mark, you seem to have had success getting people to talk to you. How do you do it?
MF: This is making me think of something else that is really important when you're dealing with a subject like this and with a person like Jen, you're developing a relationship. Let's stipulate you've got the time you need to develop this into a story. I think another thing that's important to be aware of and careful about is your own sense of personal relationship to your subject. I was very careful with Jen, I mean, she would tell you this too. I can say this in front of her because I know she gets it, but there were several points during this process where I kind of stepped back and said Jen, I mean I have a lot of respect for Jen. She's an extraordinary person as you can see in a number of ways, but I had to say also…
JL: I'm single.
MF: Not least for her dry sense of humor. But there were moments where I said, “Look, I'm here as a journalist and this is what I need from you.” There were a couple of points when I remember we turned off the recorders. I said, “Jen, I'm going to turn the recorder off and I need you to tell me about X,” because I needed to know something that she didn't want to talk about that was really important to me being able to report with confidence what I was going to report about the crime that occurred. You're in territory where you're developing a sense of friendship and connection and I had to make clear, “I'm not asking you as your friend. You know why I'm asking you this, this is why I need to know this.” And I think it must be very important to keep that in mind as you've won a subject's confidence. You're thinking about what's going to happen to them and what you're doing to them but you also need to think about what it's doing to you and make sure that you're doing your job as you supposed to.
BS: I think even in breaking news situations, there are gestures of control you can make, those little steps: seeking permission, of being transparent, explaining just that extra sentence, that extra half sentence that make all the difference in a subject feeling that you're part of a system of respect for them or you're part of a world that is isolated and left them off on an iceberg somewhere.
JL: On the national front, for example, when these stories break, I've seen some journalists do things, you know, drag children in front of the camera to talk about what they've seen and this sort of stuff, and when those journalists have contacted me, it's like, “Yeah, that's never going to happen, ever.”
BS: Keep the blacklist.
JL: We share notes on you guys, we do. We know which of you are jerks and which of you are good to your word.
Audience member: We were talking about terminology, and I think what surprised me in interviewing people that experienced violence is the word “victim.” Some people don't like that word, they fell it has a negative connotation. I’m wondering what your take is on that?
JL: I would hope that you would follow whatever identity a person has chosen to wear. How they identify themselves would be what you would honor. I will tell you that I’ve come to a place personally where I was victimized by gun violence ten years ago. I'm a survivor of gun violence now. And there are certainly moments when I still feel victimized by the bullet that hit me in the back years ago. But I survived and I want to come to this from a position of strength, not from this place of weakness.
BS: I think that's as good a place as any to call it an evening. Jen, thank you so much.