Origin Chronicles: Keeping Promises

The relationships you build with your subjects is at the fulcrum of your success or failure as a storyteller. Teeter the wrong way, and you’ll smack the ground.

I haven’t busted my bottom yet, but I there have been some close calls.

To date, I’ve forgotten to do two simple tasks that might have strained relationships with my subjects; going to an event, and sending a photo.

Of course, it occurred at Picture Kentucky. One of my subjects was a do-it-all man. Literally. He was the county magistrate, taxidermist, funeral director, grave digger and craftsman. My job was to document him in all his roles.

After spending several hours with him, he invited me to come back to an annual festival at his hometown (The Wooly -Worm festival). I quickly accepted. When a few months went by and time came for the event, I was just too bogged down to go.

I had planned to return with some friends and spend the day, but college life and newsrooms don’t allow much free time.

But there are no excuses for breaking promises.

It may not seem like a big deal, but I know Mr. Begle would remember. That’s all it takes. The relationship I built with him and the access I had been granted into his life and community might be severed or compromised for future work on that project.

Keeping promises is at the heart of journalism and our ethics. The Society for Professional Journalists even lists it in their code of ethics. (Fourth bullet, third sentence.)

Think of what could happen if you were a beat reporter, and you didn’t keep a promise to a vital source of information. Your entire job and career in that beat could be compromised.

As journalists, all we have is our name and integrity. Our reputation allows us to perform our job and let the people trust us as a source of accurate and timely information. Don’t go teetering the wrong way.

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