Don’t fall in love with the story. This was the conclusion reached in this week’s media law and ethics class, of reporters who allow their story’s hypothesis to be an unshakeable barrier to seeking the truth.

In favour of what they called, the “anti-hypothesis,” the group said, “A responsible journalist should not set out to prove the hypothesis, but rather, test its validity.”

There are inherent challenges in moving away from assumptions in investigative reporting as the class found out in Michael Finkel’s fictitious piece, on child slavery in Africa.

Finkel says that after months of researching the story, and the pressure to find just the right hook, he was forced to feign many of its details for The New York Times magazine article he was working on, “I had spent almost all my time in Africa attempting to prove that the story I’d been sent to cover did not exist... [My editor’s] idea, the tale of one boy, seemed less complicated than mine, and possibly more profound.”

Finkel has regained a modicum of the credibility he once had as a journalist but not without a powerful mea culpa to his peers.

There, of course, legal issues with pushing a hypothesis too far and allowing it to distort the facts of the story. The group spoke to Bert Bruser, one of Canada’s leading media lawyers, who said, “The responsible journalism defense, from beginning to end, requires the reporter to be fair to the victim. And if you're not fair to the victim, if you don't give them the chance to explain and if you're following an agenda, and look at the facts and distort them to suit they're agenda, then you're f---ed.”

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