Should a Journalist Covering Rocky Horror Live Attend the Show in Drag?

Is it a violation of journalistic integrity to participate in an event you’re covering, or is it a powerful, creative technique for reporting an experience from the inside?

I spend most of my time as a journalism instructor getting students to pick up the habits of objective reporting (including the convention of the reporter functioning as an invisible observer), but sometimes the story lends itself to the more subjective “new journalism” reporting techniques.


In my Media Lab class today, some students teased a classmate who wanted to cover a local live stage production of Rocky Horror Picture Show, saying he should show up in drag.

The live show, based on which inspired the cheesy 1975 movie, involves campy, vampy, shlocky showmanship. Audience members shout at the actors, throw things on the stage, and participate in the show by dressing up in costume.

I ended up encouraging the student to attend in drag if he wanted to. In the right context, a story about “This is what happened when a reporter who had never seen this cult show before wanted to learn for himself what it was like” could work very well on a features page, or as a bit of stunt livetweeting.

If, on the other hand, the real story was about a community controversy over the content of the play, or the finances or history of the performance venue, then participating in the story to that extent would be inappropriate.

(Full disclosure… I volunteer for the theatre group producing this show, though I’m not involved in this particular show.)

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