I am just about to finish my fifth year working at The Chicago Reporter, where we do investigative work around race and poverty issues in Chicago, Illinois and the nation as a whole.
As with most of adult life, the years seem to whiz by with increasing rapidity, and I can say that it’s been an honor and a privilege to participate in the Reporter’s tradition of deep, computer-assisted, data-rich reporting.
Our projects almost invariably feature a heavy emphasis on data, and some of them have had widespread impact.
Tell Me No Lies has a global range and scope. In one of the opening chapters we read Martha Gellhorn‘s horror at visiting the Dachau concentration camp, while shortly after we are treated to Seymour Hersh’s classic account of the My Lai massacre.
Jessica Mitford’s compelling dissection of the exploitation by the American funeral industry of their customers who are at some of their lives’ most vulnerable moments follows, and white South Africans Max du Preez and Jaques Pauw explain how they betrayed their tribes as they discovered and wrote about some of the apartheid regime’s most heinous abuses.
The founders of Vrye Weekblad received death threats and had their offices bombed for exposing, among other things, the notorious Vlakplaas farm that served as the headquarters for Eugene “Prime Evil” de Kok and his destructive comrades.
The chapter’s opening section illustrates many of the collection’s strengths.
Du Preez and Pauw begin their account in an intimate and warm description of a group of Afrikaaner men standing around a potjiekos, a traditional stew cooked in a cast-iron pot. The authors explain that the men have nicknames and that, in many ways, their gathering is indistinguishable from similar such meetings throughout the country.
The ordinary nature of the men’s social meeting of course is a set up both for the horrific actions they take and for the journalists’ reminder that perhaps we all have a capacity for similarly evil acts.
A strong sense of moral outrage conveyed through specific and ironic details undergirds the book and each of its components. In some cases the sense of urgency is greater than others, as in the late Anna Politskovskaya’s unforgettable coverage of the Chechen rebels.
I don’t want to give too much away as I do hope people read the work, and her efforts to provide some alternative to the theater conflict is almost unbearable to read, and the chapter’s final sentences nearly burn the reader’s eyes.
Vision is a critical part of Tell Me No Lies.
Each of the reporters included in the anthology went to places where few other choose to go and shared with the world what they had learned. This counterintuitive courage, the storytelling skill, the factual accuracy of the writings and the price the authors were willing to pay give the work their power.
I left the collection humbled and inspired to do more and better and braver in my work. I hope you have a chance to learn from these journalists’ example, too.