While reading through the interview with Sim Chi Yin, I was constantly intrigued by what was being revealed.
Sim is a photographer and videographer who spent time capturing the life of Chinese gold miner He Quangui as his silicosis progressed, ultimately leading to his death. It’s an extremely strong piece with some intense images that show the rapid physical deterioration caused by the disease.
The biggest thing that stands out to me is how deeply involved in He’s life Sim became. Instead of just taking pictures and video from the corner of the room, she actually became a part of his life and family.
The biggest example of this is the time when Sim raised money and personally drove He to the hospital where he underwent a surgery that prolonged his life for about four years.
In the interview, Sim acknowledges the ethical questions that pertain to her actions.
“This is total intervention, which is something we’re taught not to do in objective journalism 101.” Sim said. “But I just thought it was unconscionable not to help one’s subject, given such a situation.
While she definitely did intervene in the situation, which is usually frowned upon, helping to prolong He’s life allow Sim to produce a better product through extended access to his life.
With a project like this one, where Sim is trying to shine a light on the effects of inhumane working conditions in Chinese mines, it’s clear that her goal is to intervene in the lives of many people who suffer from this disease or could suffer from this disease in the future.
The difference is simple: her intervention in He’s life was direct, but her intervention in the countless number of lives saved by improved working conditions is indirect.
Ultimately, all journalism is about intervening. Journalists discover the facts, digest the facts, distribute the facts, and dare to question why the facts are what they are.
Let’s take a look at the highly acclaimed first season of Serial, which focuses on the case of Adnan Syed, a man who, as a teenager, was sentenced to life in prison for strangling his girlfriend.
In the twelve-part series, host Sarah Koenig examined all the evidence surrounding the case and spoke to many of Syed’s friends and family, as well as many other experts.
She also spoke to Deirdre Enright, who leads the UVA Innoncence Project, a group dedicated to uncovering new evidence in cases that could lead to overturning convictions.
That sounds like intervention to me, specifically seeking out people who could help change the conviction of a case that you’re telling the story of, but it brings up the question:
What is the story that’s being told?
If the story is simply about what happened to Syed or He, then intervention in any aspect of the subject’s live seems irresponsible. But if the story is about something greater than: the effects of silicosis on the lives of Chinese gold miners or the way that wrongful convictions from 20 years ago have a hope of being overturned, is it all that bad to take actions that help to reveal more information about the story?
While Sim certainly became a part of He’s family, that fact doesn’t disqualify her from effectively telling his story and after all, isn’t journalism just storytelling?
Check out this short film Sim Chi Yin, published on National Geographic.