Allison Oligschlaeger



Having just returned from a year in the Pacific Islands of New Zealand, I was psyched to learn that I would spend this semester reporting on Utah’s Pacific Islander population. It wasn’t my own community, of course, but it wasn’t completely foreign to me either. This was truly the perfect beat for me to explore the nuances of identity-oriented reporting — new enough to be challenging, but familiar enough to be approachable.

I became especially grateful for that psychological foothold when I ran into reporting issues within my first month on the beat. As a queer person, I wanted to write a story about the third gender identity found in Polynesian cultures and the experiences of LGBTQ Pacific Islanders here in Utah. But finding people willing to share their experiences of gender and sexuality in Utah’s Pacific Islander community proved difficult. After receiving no response to an email I sent a potential source, a gay Polynesian man, I followed up with him on Facebook. I could see that he had read my message, but again did not respond.

This presented me with an ethical question: how hard is it appropriate to push for an interview? Ordinarily, I follow a former editor’s advice to “be a (polite) bulldog,” leaving as many emails and voicemails as it takes to get a response from sources. But this situation felt different. I wasn’t asking this man about an event he was organizing or an area of expertise, I was asking him to discuss intimate details of his identity and experiences as a gay Pacific Islander. Was it appropriate or considerate to continue pressing him across multiple platforms?

Ultimately, I made the call to respect this man’s right to ignore my questions and changed my story topic. I believe identity-oriented reporting should deepen and expand our understandings of people, and I worried that continuing to push this potential source would have made him feel diminished instead. When searching for specific perspectives, especially those of minority populations, it’s important to make sure our sources feel respected as whole individuals and not reduced to the aspects of their identities that are most relevant to the story we’re working on. And while I don’t think it’s inappropriate to ask people about their identities — on the contrary, I think it often produces excellent journalism! — writing about subjects as sensitive as gender, sexuality and race demands a corresponding level of sensitivity from us. This means listening actively, responding empathetically and, contrary to popular journalistic practice, being willing to take “no” for an answer. I’m grateful that reporting this beat gave me opportunities to practice all three!


img_6430Allison Oligschlaeger is a freelance journalist and communication student at the University of Utah.

They began their newswriting career in high school with a weekly column for the “Teen’s Ink” section of The Davis County Clipper.

Allison’s work has since appeared in The Deseret News, Salt Lake City Weekly and The Daily Utah Chronicle. They received a regional Mark of Excellence award from the Society of Professional Journalists for their coverage of the University of Utah fight song debate in 2014. Allison enjoys skiing, traveling and personal nonfiction.

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