WWEMD? (What Would Errol Morris Do?)
November 14, 2014 11:06 PM   Subscribe

Something that happened many years ago in my community is coming back to the fore in the form of multiple lawsuits. Many people were hurt and it turns out that a lot of people connected to my family were involved in one way or the other, on both sides: perpetrator and victim. There was a major cover-up operation back when it all went down and most of these people, perp and victim included, have moved on, in a way, from that time. I realize that I am uniquely suited to write this story , but I don't know how to go about getting people to talk to me, and talk to me on the record.

Already, a few of the involved parties have spilled startling amounts of detail in casual conversation, without me bringing it up. I tend to bring that out in people, I think it's because I'm tolerant and diplomatic and friendly and perceived as harmless. I've also had my own trouble in recent years and I'm sure that at least some of the people I'd be interviewing know that I'm not just swooping in on my high horse, looking to pass judgements. Because that's not it at all. I'm looking to find out what really happened, through the stories from the people that lived it. I want to understand the situation, and help others understand it for themselves and for the community, for healing old wounds. How do I take that to the next level and actually get people to agree to an interview? I'm not going to lie and say that I am on one side or the other, or that I believe them or I don't. Also, I can't say that talking to me is going to help them, it may end up burning them in the end, depending on the outcome of the legal/community process. Eventually, the material could be used in an article or a book, and it's my and another family member's intention to write that article or book. I haven't attempted to set anything up yet, I'm afraid to jeopardize any potential sources. And yes, I am well aware that anything that I record has the potential to rip shit apart, but seeing as the lawsuits are mounting, maybe some of these players would welcome the opportunity. I don't know if anything else along these lines is in the works. It's still very early on.

In general, should I at least promise something in return? A copy of the tapes (two-party recording state) or my notes? A follow-up interview? Copy of the rough drafts? When do I mention the books? Can I just start by calling and saying that I want to know what happened, in their own words? How do I take the previous revelatory conversations to a more formal level?

I have enough in common with most of those involved to stop and chat at length if I run into them at the grocery store, I grew up with them. I'm not really looking for book recommendations. I'll respond through the mods if necessary.
posted by anonymous to Society & Culture (2 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Hard to say w/o more detail on the actual events. Maybe your expose -- let's speak plainly -- will further a worthy cause. But you haven't made that case. Absent that, I'd be inclined to stop down.
posted by LonnieK at 5:47 PM on November 15, 2014

seeing as the lawsuits are mounting

It's not clear how the lawsuits are now mounting, from events that took place "many years ago." There are statutes of limitations on most matters. Did this involve murders or other serious crimes?

Anyway, since the lawsuits are mounting, I would think most participants and witnesses would be reluctant to talk publicly, to avoid prejudicing their case or that of someone they support.

The time for your book is after the lawsuits.
posted by JimN2TAW at 9:11 AM on November 18, 2014

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