That is, Lawson made a trip in 1700-1701 and told the world about when next he could -- in a book in 1709, which was a perfectly reasonable turnaround at the time. My time scale is somewhat less casual, and part of my work is to learn to use the astonishing tools that allow me to remain constantly constant.
I built this website to learn how to build a website. I'm going along on my trip and keeping anybody who's interested apprised moment by moment on an Instagram feed that appears on the Lawson Trek homepage; on Tweets and Facebook posts (I chose Instagram because it plays well with others; I thought I'd be live-Tweeting, but Instagram transfers to Twitter way better than Twitter transfers to anything else -- lesson learned). I have shared information from a canoe in the Intracoastal Waterway, updated my status from a barrier island during a wicked storm, transferred pictures in the field from my GoPro to my phone to my blog, taken pictures with special iPhone lenses, and used solar power to recharge all my devices. It's been a hoot, and I'll have things to tell you about all that eventually.
That is, I am practicing the journalism of my time just as Lawson told stories in a way that was appropriate for his. A good bit of what he wrote had rather a chamber of commerce feel to it -- he was clearly encouraging people to come live in Carolina -- so you have to recognize this, as people certainly would have then. But even Lawson, when he told you stories he had heard secondhand, let you know that.
So I'm kind of heartbroken that given current events I have to make a point of this, but I will: everything I tell you on this site is as true as I can make it. If somebody just tells me something, I'll tell you that, and who told it to me. If I see something myself, I'll tell you that too. I'll even shoot pictures and video when I can. If I do research I'll either link to a source or tell you the source; and if I don't, and you come looking for it, I'll supply it.
The reason I even bring it up is because on the trek's first segment (summarized just this week on the Scientific American Blog Network!) something interesting happened. I was making my way hither and yon, and a reporter I had contacted at the Charleston Post and Courier named Bo Peterson gave a call to Nature Adventure Outfitters, which was functioning as my base camp and support structure during that segment. He wanted to do a story and wanted to meet me somewhere where he and a shooter could observe me in the canoe and getting out of the water. So I got a call (on my cell phone, either out in the water or at camp the night before, I can't remember) and we organized a way for him to meet me and my current guide at a stop I planned to make, at the Sewee Shell Ring.
I love professional journalists.
I mention that only as background. What I really want to tell you is that after we pulled up, and after a good hour or so of chatting, conversation, lunch, and good fellowship that led to Bo's excellent story, I went to clamber aboard the canoe and head out.
Then I remembered -- I wasn't sure I had adequately sung the praises of the Knight Science Journalism Fellowship, which I wanted to do to be both polite and very accurate. I wouldn't be on this project without its help, so I want MIT and the Fellowship program to be very happy with what they see. Anyhow, I asked Bo to make sure he remembered to mention that and he tossed his head. "That goes without saying," he said. "They're the funding organization; of course I'll mention them." And of course he did.
I tell you this because for the next month I told that story: "This is what it's like when you deal with a pro," I said. "He is accurate and responsible, and he makes sure to include elements of the story that I forget or don't think are important." He's a trained, experienced journalist and he knows that besides the knucklehead in the canoe with the crazy journey, the story involves why, and how, and who pays for it, and all that stuff. He's listening to my story, but he's making sure he tells the story, as he understands it. I was thrilled and kept telling people how happy I was to have dealt with Bo -- this is dealing with a pro, and I kept making the comparison to, say, some blogger (like me!) who may or may not be trained and may not think of all the stuff trained journalists have been taught to think of. I happen to have spent years in newsrooms, so I think I'm trained. I read plenty by bloggers who spent years in newsrooms and are trained and plenty by bloggers I don't think did, and who I don't think are. So I was real happy with Bo.
Then came this week, and the Rolling Stone debacle, when a trusted magazine ran an extremely high-profile article about campus rape, making extremely inflammatory accusations, without coming close to checking the accuracy of its sources, and I wanted to scream. This is dealing with the pros? This big-deal, New York, professional journalism organization printed stuff that it just really was pretty sure it thought was true. And suddenly there's no difference between the pros and anybody else. Suddenly, just like after every Stephen Glass or Jayson Blair or James Frey, I have to do what it seems journalists -- especially independent journalists publishing on their own sites, like this one -- constantly have to do now.
I have to promise you I'm telling the truth.
I consider myself a professional. I believe everything I tell you is true. If I have any reason to doubt, I wait; if I tell you something that seems uncertain, I tell you where I learned it and to what degree I believe it. If I make an accusation or disturbing claim (I strongly doubt on the Lawson Trek I will ever do such a thing but just the same if I do) I'll make sure I'm not running off on a single source, becoming an unwitting tool of someone with an agenda or, worse, an unwitting tool of my own agenda that I'm too blind to see.
Everyplace I tell you I go, I really go. Everything I tell you I see, I really see. If I tell you something is true and it's old, I probably got it from a trustworthy source that I can produce; if I tell you something is true and it's current, chances are I saw it myself and have told you all about that.
Now I know -- the real tragedy here of the Rolling Stone piece of course is that there's still plenty of reasons to believe the alleged victim in that story genuinely was hurt, but because of Rolling Stone's lousy standards she'll now find it very hard to be believed. And expanding the depth of field a bit wider, of course, we now have to worry about all (alleged!) victims of sexual misconduct being afraid to come forward because it's now one untrustworthy story harder to believe them.
But even that's just part of the picture. The real picture is a story like the Rolling Stone story is an assault on all reporting, on all nonfiction. Those of us who tell true stories for a living have only one thing to sell: the truth of what we report. This is real. This happened. I can tell you this because I know this, and I know the difference between "I know this" and "I pretty much think I know this" and "wouldn't this be nice?" And every time Rolling Stone or one of the people I mentioned above does something like this it makes it harder and harder for people like me to tell the truth and make a living at it, because the temptation to tell lies -- or to lower your standards when the story just seems really, really good or worth it -- is constant.
The Rolling Stone mess doesn't just make it harder for rape victims telling the truth. It makes it harder for people telling the truth about climate change or evolution or the moon landings. Or their childhoods or racism or sexism. Or long walks around the Carolinas looking for the path of someone else who passed through 300 years ago.