Saturday, August 6, 2011

Conversations with Corporate

By Stephanie J. Ramirez (Somerville, MA)

A journalist is nothing if not aggressive.

Yesterday, as we were working (rather loudly, I’ll admit) on our articles, we were quickly shushed and told that three of our own were making the ultimate call – their first call to a corporation. While I have been in contact with several corporations for a story about the commercialization of Nassau Street (look for it in The Princeton Summer Journal next week!), those conversations have not been half as exciting as yesterday’s call was. I dropped everything to focus in on the conversation, even though I was not a part of it.

What I learned was this – real, hard-hitting journalism requires brave journalists.

The call was to Rite Aid to question the corporation about expired products that we found in several of their stores in the New York area. Corporations are never happy when you write about them, unless, of course, you're praising them. I learned a few days ago that if you go to a chain restaurant, introduce yourself as a journalist and proceed to ask questions, employees can’t – under most corporate policy – answer you. Yesterday, my friends (and I, thanks to my great eavesdropping skills) learned that a corporation's headquarters is more likely to answer your questions, but only in an e-mail – after you’ve sent them the questions and they’ve thought their dry responses completely through.

On the phone call, the PR manager wasn’t happy to learn we’d found expired products in some Rite-Aids, and much less happier to learn that we’d recorded some interviews and snapped some pictures of their merchandise. He claimed that we had no right to do such thing.

Journalism is hard. It’s exposing the dark truths, and it takes hard work. No one likes to see their secrets exposed, but the reality is that’s our job. What are journalists for if not to inform the public about what is happening with their community, whether that be by praising something new or spilling some secrets?

It might seem like journalism is the easiest of jobs. Get a topic, ask some questions, and write a story. But the real truth is – and as a true journalist, I’m about to expose it – that our job is the bravest and most difficult of all.

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