Why bother interviewing people…..

….when you can just stitch together the best bits of what they told other people? Johann Hari – much admired Independent writer – has been passing off quotes given to other publications as genuine quotes from interviews he’s conducted for the paper.  He’s written an explanation for this “interview etiquette” saying it’s perfectly legitimate because interviewees often write more coherently than they speak.  Erm, yes, Mr Hari, that tends to be the case.  So if that’s what you believe, why are you bothering to go to the trouble of meeting them and speaking to them in the first place?  Why not just create your “intellectual portrait” out of their best quotes.  Only don’t call it an “interview.”

The whole point of an interview, surely, is to add something new to what we already know about a person.  It’s also about the relationship that develops between the interviewee and the journalist – which can be illuminating about both.  If an interviewee is being annoyingly incoherent, then it’s fine to say so, isn’t it?  Perhaps there’s an interesting reason the journalist can tell us about. Is the interviewee hungover, unhappy, distracted, in a bad mood.  That’s the kind of stuff I want from an interview.  I can get the best quotes from Wikipedia.

One thought on “Why bother interviewing people…..

  1. Beatrice Bray

    This does not really surprise me as I used to work in newspaper journalism a while back. However at least with journalism it is all on show. If you really want to do so you can check for plagiarism.

    I know this is also a concern in education. It is so easy for students to copy the work of other people. Again the universities are wise to this.

    However some professional staff like to make out that they are above all this. Doctors are a good example. They undoubtedly think they are better than journalists but if you care to look at your health records you will probably find mistakes and distortions. For those of us with long-term conditions we probably have to make do with an ever-changing sea of faces. There is no continuity of care for people like me so our histories become completely garbled. We lose our right to our own identity because our lives have become the property of the NHS.

    The context may be a little different to the media but it is the same type of sloppiness. And these people think they deserve our respect.


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