Sam Vincent spent three months living at sea, ‘watching whales, watching whalers and eating whales’, as he put it. He described his approach to living with his subjects as ruthless. He wasn’t there to protect his friendships, he was there to keep people honest. ‘Your only loyalty should be to the truth’, he said. The phrase initially struck me as grandiose but upon reflection it elicited my admiration. Sam is dedicated to the truth with a capital ‘t’; such idealism and journalistic integrity are seemingly hard to come by these days.
He also had very real and practical reasons for remaining stoically impartial. He was aware that people might not believe his account because it was different from official press releases. This is where the ‘Three Pillars of Investigative Journalism’ came in. Sam highlighted the importance of backing up your claims with evidence, eyewitness accounts being the most important primary sources which allow you to dispute media manipulated versions. The second pillar was ‘Corroboration’: it’s crucial to anticipate future criticism and hold your own version of events to account. If one has access to physical evidence such as photos or videos so much for the better. It gives one’s story more security and validity.
The third pillar ‘Digging’ was, oddly enough, by far the most interesting to the Woroni audience. Sam told us how to get his hands on the ship’s logbook he bribed a man with a bottle of wine. Questions like ‘Is wine a particularly coveted item at sea?’ and ‘So you bribed him, ey? How much further would you go?’ ensued. The audience was, rather humorously, intent on grilling Vincent upon a tiny and inconsequential issue. It definitely wasn’t the most interesting thing he said but there you have it.
Vincent gave some great advice to the keen beans wanting to get ahead in the freelancing industry. Vincent himself started out doing travel writing because it’s an area which attracts freelancers in particular and travelling was something he did a lot of as a student. He made a name for himself and began to get emails from journalists asking him to write pieces for them, travel expenses paid. When he got a book deal a few years later, he explained that a lot of luck was involved. The publisher’s website said it wasn’t taking submissions but he submitted a manuscript anyway. He also said that as writers and journalists, we need to be open to the possibility of our story changing. ‘The story you set out to write is rarely the story you end up writing’, he said.