Living in the eye of a global media storm of coverage of an alleged serial killer for the past year, Karen Fraser has learned more than she ever could have imagined about today’s journalists and how they work.
In the evolving nightmare, as her home emerged as ground zero for the Toronto police investigation into murder victims linked to Toronto’s Gay Village, Fraser, who has longed worked at coaching individuals and companies in how to adapt to sudden change, now has much to teach journalists about a source’s perspective on journalism. Indeed, she has undertaken to share her experiences with journalism students. This week, she was a guest speaker in a class I am teaching at Ryerson School of Journalism. In this class, the teacher learned as much as her students.
From the outset, aggressive journalists chased after the couple, with media the world over covering the grisly story. Reporters staked out their home when they were given the go-ahead to return 22 days later. Dozens of journalists hung out in a swarm in the park across from their home, used parabolic mikes to eavesdrop, emailed friends and colleagues and tried to bully the couple into telling all. For reporters, such persistence is aligned with “getting the story.” To journalists, this was undoubtedly a big story of immense public interest. But this was Fraser and Smith’s life.
Too many of these journalists asked trite, banal questions. The worst, Fraser says is the cliché: “How do you feel?” Don’t ever ask that one, Fraser advises journalists. “We had no idea how we felt. How could anyone?” For her, the cliché was an interview killer.