My article for this semester’s immersion writing class is now a supernova.
Short version: my interviewee — a college graduate, college athlete who is currently homeless — wished to stop the article.
Long version: he wanted paid for his contribution, his story.
We stood in the bathroom of the MUMC church in downtown Columbia for two hours. He slowly prepared for the day, washing himself with a ragged navy blue washcloth and layering on two types of deodorant.
His fingers appeared as potato skins, dehydrated from a unwatched oven, and betrayed his young age of 55.
There are two small scars on the bridge of his nose: a 2 above the Greek lowercase lambda, turned to the right. He spoke to me still looking into the mirror.
“I’m giving you 2 months of my life,” Guy Jones said, “and not getting a dime, a nickel.”
The human in me originally thought:
Hey, if this gets published, I’ll shell out a hundred or two, maybe half of what I make. After all, it’s not a story without him, and it’s not money I have to lose.
I never had the money in the first place.
Jones felt that the article was a business transaction.
A fair deal was 50/50 by his standards. If I’d let him sleep on my couch for the duration of our time together, he might agree to 60/40 or even 70/30.
His outright demands gave a microphone to the journalist in me screaming: WE DON’T PAY SOURCES.
I found him at the bus station a few days later, hoping to convince him that he had a unique story that wasn’t going to net him any financial gain.
I handed him two pieces of paper, each with orange highlighting, to help explain why I could not pay him.
The journalists’ creed by Walter Williams,
“…that bribery by one’s own pocketbook is as much to be avoided as bribery by the pocketbook of another.”
And the SPJ Code of Ethics, under the heading, Act Independently:
—Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived
— Be wary of sources offering information for favors or money; avoid bidding for news.
He told me that the Guy Jones school says, “F*** Walter Williams.”
I wished him luck and exited the station, peering into the sky for the burst of light coming from the week-long explosion I’d been living.