Welcome to this week’s Reno News & Review.
I’m still getting a hard time over last week’s cover story, “Drug tests,” in which I sampled some of the legal substances available at local head shops. It’s not from the expected sources—you know, I expected my dad to call, “What do you mean you took coke in the early ‘80s?” or from some distraught parent, “I never heard of this stuff. Why are you doing telling my kids about it?” (And by the way, I’d never heard of some of this stuff, either, but I’m willing to bet any kid who’d be inclined toward experimenting already knew about it.)
No, I’m getting a hard time about the one I didn’t try, Salvia divinorum. The argument is since I didn’t try it, I shouldn’t have written about it. Some of these are people I respect. Now, not to split hairs here, but I have two points I’d like to make. First, journalists rarely speak from personal knowledge, and second, I wrote about my experience, which included doing the research, talking to people I considered experts, and then making my decision based on the information I had.
This is an interesting concept that basically could be summed up as the question, “What is truth?” I do a lot of first-person experiential writing. I’ve found that it doesn’t usually reflect too well on me because an accurate story requires the whole truth, at least as it relates to the article. So those human inconsistencies, blunders and ambivalences make the person writing the story look stupid, uncertain and weak. My bullshit detector rings loud when I read a first-person story in which the writer portrays himself as first-person omniscient.
This will give me food for thought. I know journalists can write about space without being astronauts, but when a writer steps up to say, “I think my experience is universal enough that it can inform other people’s ideas,” is it acceptable to forgo almost any action?