“Can we lie?”

The topic for today’s lecture was writing personality profiles, as that is the writing assignment for the next two writing labs.

We discussed interviewing techniques and story structure. We used someone almost everyone has read a profile of — UF’s quarterback Tim Tebow — to provide an example of focusing the profile and collecting anecdotes and quotes.

Next week, they will write a profile based on a recorded interview they will watch. Then the following week, they will be matched with a classmate in lab. They’ll develop their questions, interview each other, and write the profile in lab.

I could sense that the students both were excited about this assignment and a little anxious. Most have never conducted an interview before so the interview with a classmate will be the first interview for them.

They asked questions about interviewing and profile writing.

Then one student asked, “Can we lie?”

A few quiet gasps. Most of the students turned around to see who had asked this question.

“No, you can’t lie,” I said in an even voice. I wasn’t sure how he envisioned lying — lying as the person being interviewed or lying in writing the profile. But either way, the answer was “no.”

“In a media job, what would happen to you if you lied?” I posed to the class.

Voices responded: “You’d get in trouble.” “You could get fired.”

Above them, he said, “Nothing would happen.”

It was one of those situations where, as a teacher, you have to make a quick decision. Do you try and discuss this with him to change his mind right now? Do you disagree with him and go on? Do you ignore the comment?

With about 10 minutes left in class, I had several topics to cover  to get the students ready for their homework assignment. More than 100 students in the auditorium were waiting to see what would happen next.

“Now I want everyone to check him out,” I said in a good natured way, “as one of you is going to be interviewing him. So you’d better be ready.”

Some good natured laughter. I smiled and moved right into the critique of a sample profile. And then class ended.

I didn’t try to find him at the end of class today. That would have been too soon. He still would be ready to win his point.

I don’t know his name, but I definitely will recognize him again.

I’ll look for him another day  before or after class when he and I can talk — without an audience. I’ll try to find out more about his perspective on lying and see if I can advance the conversation about media ethics. And I will try to do that before he is matched with a classmate for the profile interview.


  1. This really comes down to our societal values. As a nation, we’re very much okay with dishonesty. And when it’s discovered? We talk about it for a little while and move on. Affairs are seen as disgraceful by many, yet these are the same people who have similar indiscretions. You should really try and find out if this student is just trying to be a thorn in your side or is just a cynic who sees the shady side of society?


  2. So cool to read the perspective of “the other side of the room.” You never miss a beat, professor!



    1. Zahara,
      Enjoyed when you were in class and now am glad to see we’re still in contact. Let me know if you have any suggestions for topics you’d like for me to discuss — and us to discuss — in the blog.

      Prof Dodd


  3. […] 21, 2009 in higher education, media, teaching | Tags: The Yes Men “Can we lie?” was a question a student asked during a class discussion on interviewing a few weeks […]


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