'The Girl in Cell 4': Securing social inclusion through a journalist-source collaboration
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Aboriginal people who die in custody face two forms of exclusion: one evident in their disproportionately high imprisonment rates; the other in their traditional lack of voice in the media. This latter exclusion comes about through journalistic practices that privilege authoritative sources and emphasise distance. Janet Beetson was one of fourteen Aboriginal people to die in custody in 1994, a record year for Aboriginal prison deaths. At the time, her death went largely unremarked in the mainstream media. ‘The Girl in Cell 4’ was published in 1997 about these 1994 events. It was not breaking news: its aim was to tell in detail the story of the last week of Janet Beetson’s life through an investigation of what led to her avoidable death. This article charts the critical importance of Janet Beetson’s family members in bringing the story to public attention in a way that honoured their loved one and called to account the systems that allowed her to die. This journalist–source collaboration challenges orthodox ideas about arm’s length reporting, and indicates that such collaboration can provide for social inclusion.