As part of my glocal (global and local) reporting class at UNR, students were asked to do a q and a with a prominent journalist. Tsanavi Spoonhuter interviewed one of the journalists I admire the most, Jina Moore.
Moore not only produces excellent, investigative content, but also thinks about her craft. She's written about "The Pornography Trap, How not to write about rape" for CJR, as well on "The White Correspondent's Burden, We Need to Tell the Africa Story Differently" for the Boston Review. Below is a screengrab picture of Jina Moore's website, and what follows is Tsanavi's article for my class.
Interviewing victims of violence
by: TSANAVI SPOONHUNTER
Award-winning journalist, Jina Moore, has covered global issues like Ebola and international organizations like the United Nations. Currently, she’s serving as the Global Women's Rights Correspondent and Africa Bureau Chief for BuzzFeed. She specializes in conflict and human rights reporting, with most of her work in Africa and Asia.
The quote below is Moore’s perspective on her role as a journalist. I was intrigued by this quote and with several pieces from her website, because she wrote compelling stories about strong women who’ve gone through trauma and/or major inequality. When I was given the opportunity to interview her I knew it would bring valuable insight, as a journalist, when approaching sensitive topics. The following is an excerpt from a phone conversation on March 18.
“I’m trying to combine journalism’s two missions: Holding the powerful to account and telling stories about the people around us. Actually, I try to hold the powerful to account by telling stores about the people around us.”
TS: What is the best advice that you have for interviewing a victim of abuse?
MOORE: I think if there is one piece of advice that you remember when you have to go into an interview it’s that you need to give that person the feeling that they’re in charge. [Can] this person be sure from the way I’m speaking, from where I’m sitting, from my body language that they know that they’re in charge of this conversation? Then you’re thousands and thousands of steps ahead of people who don’t think about that particular issue. So when you have someone who’s been abused or sexually violated or whatever matter of subject, and that’s the reason you’re sitting with them, and you have to talk about that, you want to make them feel as comfortable as possible. Not just by being nice but, by making it clear that yes you’re the journalist, and yes you asked for the interview, but this is a process that they control. Because those are things that people who are not used to dealing with media— and most victims are not used to dealing with the media— they don’t know that they have the power to say those things (to say I don’t want to answer that, and that’s fine we’ll move on).
TS: How do you detach yourself from a person’s story when you’re interviewing them, or when you’re working on a story over a long course of time?
MOORE: That’s a hard process actually. I think it’s really important to clarify right up front with the person what you’re doing and then remind them as the time drags on that you’re going to learn as much as you can about them. Then you’re going to write your story of their story. It can happen when people read the story of their lives represented to them and there’s nothing factually wrong, but they have this weird dissociated experience. So just being very clear about the fact that you’re telling your story about them, even though this is their story, you’re grateful for their collaboration helps. It also reminds them as time wears on that you’re there as a professional capacity. You’re not there as a friend or something. And then after a story runs it helps to share the story (with them).
TS: Say you’re interviewing somebody and you’re telling their story right, but they’re still in the situation of abuse. After you’re done with the story would it be unethical to help that person escape that abuse?
MOORE: I think the ethical aspects of abuse stories are really tricky if you encounter someone who is still in the mix of the abuse, yeah? For instance, I did a story we published it in October, about a woman in a German refugee camp who was being abused by her husband. The camp authorities knew about it because they had broken up a fight between them one night. I think [they] knew that this man had choked his wife, but nothing was really being done. I felt that I knew, by the nature of what happened to her already, that her danger was more imminent than she might know. So I thought, you could have this journalist complicity: Do I get involved in this story or don’t I get involved in this story? And people have that debate a lot about a lot of different kinds of stories, but for me it wasn’t a question. I thought, this is going to go really badly really soon and we need to get this woman help. I’ve never been that actively engaged in the story, but I didn’t feel like I had a choice. For me it was not a dilemma, it was obvious.
Note: This interview has been condensed and edited.