Being host to a witness

How to meet a witness, depends on what the witness is witness to. If it's to the destruction of their own family, or the murder of all their closest friends, you approach the witness very differently than when it is a chemical engineer talking about a fraudulent misrepresentation of a product he or she may have worked on. The professional difficulty is to sustain scepticsim towards your witness testimony in ordet o be able to be certain of the facts. The most dangerous circomstance for an investigator is to discover that the evidence upon whic his story is based, is flood, incomplete or misrepresents the reality.

The latter is a clinical informational attempt to secure the information and the other is a more emotionally sympathetic attempt to find the information. But fundamentally, the goal is to secure the most accurate description possible, of what they witnessed. This also counts in a situation where a witness reveals stories that the investigative journalist does not like because of his own principles.

Often an investigative journalist has to convince the witness that their testimony is in the public interest and that this is served by disclosure. It may be painful and dangerous for the witness to come forward and tell people what the truth is. The investigative journalist has to be alert to the difficulties the witness is going to face. “I made films in countries where if they were identified in talking to me - I had hidden their identity, but if they were identified - they would be killed. And I'm not going to have that responsibility if I can in any way avoid it. I cannot imagine a situation were I would want to extract information from somebody which will result in them being killed. The object is to stop the killers.”
Another kind of witness that needs the special attention and care of the investigative journalist, are whistleblowers. Whistleblowers are subjected to the worst prosecution, according to MacFadyen’s experience. People, organizations and businesses in which they were a part, often feel betrayed. As result the whistleblower is treated as an outcast and is criminalized him or herself. Often it is a very powerful testimony because the whistleblower has considered the consequences and has come to the conclusion that not speaking up is a worse crime then not doing so despite the risks.
Emotions are not interesting for an investigative journalist. He/she needs facts. The emotions with which people communicate what they say are an important reflection of how they perceive that evidence, but it is not the evidence itself. As human beings the investigative journalist can be sympathetic to the fact that the witness had a bad morning or had major fight at home or is scared to talk. Professionally what matters is what the witness is saying. “On a human level I care that he's had a bad morning, but I really do want to know whether he saw the factory manager ignore the warning and whether he saw the red light or not. That makes it easier to establish whether the manager is culpable for an industrial accident or not”.
The role of emotion is to provide the power of the narrative.