Inevitably it means upsetting – and unsettling ruthless characters who thought their dark secrets were safely obscured. It is fascinating of course but unlike the police, we have no right to pry. Our special power is that of public exposure – with the hope that now and again wrongs will be righted.
Being intrusive is part of the game but I have never had to put my foot physically in a door to prevent it being slammed in my face. Perhaps it helps I have, seemingly, a forceful personality and a hefty presence. What I think crucial is of skill in dealing with people of all sorts and building their trust.
You have to be thick-skinned but also sensitive to what might unlock someone’s natural inclination to shut you out, to know what buttons to push. Up-front, when you are face to face with your informant, there is just a brief opportunity – a minute or two – to foster a dialogue or leave empty-handed.
You have to be incessantly curious, an urge to discover why something seems out of kilter. All around us there are interesting stories, big and small – like my story about the bird-shooting vicar in our BackFlash column. In essence we need a strong emotional instinct signalling what is right and what is wrong. Not, I must stress, what is illegal or illegal. Alas, immorality is a much wider human failings; fortunately, civilisation is governed by higher standards than the criminal law.
Exposing human fallibility whether institutional or social is sometimes risky. The best protection from reprisals by people we have been called to account is to get the story into print or onto the air.