Case Study 2: Jimmy’s World

30 Jan

Five things I found suspicious during my first read-through of “Jimmy’s World”:

  1. Could a child survive for three years as a heavy heroin user? Wouldn’t there be other side-effects?
  2. Would a 5-year-old really ask to be injected with a needle?
  3. Why would these people be so open about their lives to a reporter? They aren’t clearly identified in the story, but I feel like they wouldn’t divulge information such as this to just anyone.
  4. Jimmy’s mother doesn’t like the fact that other people inject her son with heroin. Even though she said she “allows” it because, she said, he would eventually develop a drug habit anyway, those things don’t add up. Why wouldn’t she have made at least some effort to stop the heroin use?
  5. The mother’s $60-a-day habit seems like a LOT. In today’s dollars, that’s almost $150 a day. That may not be considered a lot by heroin-users’ standards, but it seems excessive and unlikely to me.

After reading Laurie Phillips’ article about “Jimmy’s World,” I definitely feel uncomfortable. Had I read that story on its own (not as a copy editor, but as a reader of Nieman Reports), I would have been at most skeptical about the story overall, but I would have trusted that the publication would not intentionally mislead me. I would be inclined to accept the story as truth if I read it in print. As a copy editor laying eyes on this piece before it was printed, I would have been very uneasy about not being able to accurately check its facts. The story itself raises red flags in my head only because it seems to unbelievable, but as I read, I thought, “Just because you’ve never heard of a child who enjoyed being a heroin addict before doesn’t mean he doesn’t exist.”

Comparing my list to the ACES’s shows me I was mostly on the right track, but I definitely didn’t consider several of the things the ACES editors did.  I think the difference in the mother’s speech bothered me on some level, but I didn’t consciously consider it to be a problem. Looking at it now, almost all the dialogue in the story seems a little too “good” to be true; each quote flows more like fiction than the often-stilted, reluctant speech that would (and, perhaps, should) result from such personal interviews. I didn’t think about the fact that Jimmy’s teachers most likely would have reported his drug use. I think because his schooling was so downplayed (he only pays attention for math, he doesn’t often go to school because he prefers to stay home, etc.), school didn’t appear to be a part of his life that mattered much, so I didn’t pay attention to it.

Reading about this story emphasizes to me how crucial it is for an editor to be skeptical. It’s OK to question and triple-check your best and most trustworthy writers; no one such be exempt from thorough fact-checking. No matter how clean the copy is, if any piece of a story is fabricated, the publication responsible for it will suffer.

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One Response to “Case Study 2: Jimmy’s World”

  1. Ronald R. Rodgers February 1, 2012 at 10:05 pm #

    Excellent re Rubric and but I want these case studies to be well aggregated. Not links here.

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