Too Much Confidence, Or Not Quite Enough

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Protestors marched through downtown Thessaloniki on May 17. Photo by Gwen Schanker

So far, every day here is so full of activity that when I have a few hours of downtime, I feel like I must be missing something. Tonight for the first time, I sat down and watched part of a movie on Netflix without worrying about whether I should be reporting or writing. It was nice to turn my brain off for a little while, since I am generally so hyper-aware of what is going on around me. Nevertheless, in such a high-energy environment – I’m referring both to the new place I’m in and the ambitious young journalists that currently populate it – it’s hard to stay shut off for long.

It’s appropriate that the title of today’s post is based off of a lyric in a Jimmy Buffett song, “Semi-True Story.” One of the core principles of the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics is to “seek truth and a report it.” In other words, journalists are absolutely restricted from “making up a few things” (as Buffett claims he does as “Semi-True Story”). As a writer, I don’t make things up, but seeking truth and reporting it has plenty of challenges in itself.

Today is an excellent example. Workers in both Thessaloniki and Athens were striking to protest an upcoming vote in parliament on new austerity measures that would cut pensions and raise taxes for Greek workers. There were protests going on all over the city, and while we were warned by many locals to stay away in case of danger, this wasn’t exactly a story that our group of aspiring professional reporters could ignore. I volunteered to help shoot video at the protest, which I figured would be a good way both to get my feet wet as a videographer and to help out with an important reporting opportunity.

If you take a look at Ellie’s post from last night, you’ll see we went in prepared for and expecting the worst. Fortunately, the protest we found ourselves in the midst of was peaceful, full of workers from all walks of life showing their support and standing up both for their own rights and for those of the masses.

We wound up catching one group at the beginning of a demonstration, which essentially consisted of a march around Thessaloniki’s downtown area with periodic call-and-response chanting. As our group of reporters, photographers, and videographers dispersed, Alexa and I joined the march to both capture video via GoPro (note: settings on a GoPro are not as easy to use as they seem) and interview strikers. Our goal was to collect usable video as well as vignettes that could be used in a larger print and video story on the culture of protests in Thessaloniki (I can hear Carlene working with our team members to edit the final version in the next room, and I think it’s going to be good).

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Around 6,000 people marched through downtown Thessaloniki on Wednesday, according to an article in Al Jazeera. Photo by Gwen Schanker

This is where things get tricky. It wasn’t the actual reporting that made me nervous – while as always, I was initially shy to approach people, most were friendly and willing to talk – but the fact that many of the people I interviewed were unwilling to tell me their name, let alone the name of the place they worked. They were, after all, protesting the government and the conditions in which they were working. One woman gave me her name but expressed concern that if she told me where she worked, she could lose her job.

My goal as a writer may be to “seek truth and report it,” but I’d hate to be responsible for putting a person in jeopardy, which is why while I was proud of myself for contributing to the reporting today, I found myself feeling very uncertain as I passed my notes from the day on to the reporters taking charge of the article.

It’s not easy to find the line between being tenacious and asking for too much, especially in a delicate situation like the protest. There’s no way to tell a story without voices from those who are in the thick of it. A a journalist, I’m faced with the conundrum of trying to raise awareness and communicate important issues while simultaneously making everyone else’s job harder. Sometimes, reporting makes me feel strong and confident –   like the conversations I have and the writing I do will make a difference – and other times, it makes me feel very, very small. Like every new question leads to uncharted territory that I’m not quite sure how to handle.

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I took this photo on the boardwalk shortly after the protest ended. From chaos to calm in just a few moments. 

Today I got a firsthand look into the frustration, energy, and worry that permeates every aspect of Greek working life. I learned a lot, met some new people and got some great quotes, but I had to face the fact that reporting isn’t always going to make me feel good. That the confidence I’ve felt so far this trip isn’t necessarily warranted, especially when my accomplishment might increase another person’s fear.

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Author: gschanker

I'm an aspiring science writer studying journalism and biology at Northeastern University and making my third - maybe fourth? - attempt at blogging.

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