Interviews, Journalism, and Blogging

I’m generally positive about the influence of blogging on the flow of information. I think it’s valuable both in terms of news and commentary and even in academic discussions. It provides a new possibility for minority ideas. It’s a good place to test ideas and to get comment on them without doing the full research that would result in an academic paper, for example.

Blogging obviously has its limitations as well. Let the reader beware. A blog entry such as this only takes a few minutes, and you don’t have any substantial way to check how accurate it is. In general, the modern age has made information much more accessible, and has also made media in general more accessible. That means that the reader has more choices and has to exercise those choices, hopefully intelligently.

Journalist Steven Levy, writing in Newsweek/MSNBC, is concerned about the retreat of some people from face to face interviews. A recent interviewer was turned down for phone interviews by several bloggers, who asked for e-mail interviews. When the journalist objected, these bloggers wrote about it on their popular blogs. I can’t help but get the feeling that a major part of the problem here was that the journalist was annoyed that he couldn’t keep the topic under his control.

Even more, however, I believe that face to face interviews, much beloved by journalists, often are not the best way to get a good idea of what’s going on. There are so many topics that require much more serious examination of the facts and a much more thoughtful response. Face to face interviews, and to an even greater extent the confrontations so loved by television journalists have a tendency to get off-the-cuff remarks, and they favor the person who can turn a catchy phrase the fastest, not necessarily the one who actually has the most in-depth knowledge of the subject, or the best judgment.

Levy concludes:

We in the journalism tribe operate under the belief that when we ask people to talk to us we are not acting out of self-interest but a sense of duty to inform the population. It’s an article of our faith that when subjects speak to us, they are engaging in a grand participatory act where everyone benefits. But these lofty views don’t impress bloggers like Rosen. “You have to prove [you represent the public],” he says. Yes, we do. But every time we lose the priceless knowledge from those essential, real-time interviews, our stories are impoverished, to the detriment of our readers: you.

Well, no, not exactly. We are not impoverished. Rather, we are enriched by the availability of new options. It takes a very tribal mindset (and Levy is right to invoke the phrase “journalism tribe”) to assume that the addition of new options and new ways for information to flow results in impoverishment.

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  1. I guess one reason why we bloggers prefer to blog, rather than to talk, is that we are (at least to speak for myself) not people who are confident at speaking publicly or under pressure from an interviewer. We are shy and introverted people who prefer to interact with others, if at all, in writing. Blogging and other writing helps us to come out of ourselves without the face-to-face interaction which some of us find threatening. If we are to be interviewed, we prefer this to be on our own terms, which for me also would mean by e-mail.

  2. For me, you are quite right. Though I speak publicly and interact with audiences a great deal, my preferred mode for really hashing out an issue is in writing, because I get to think about the phrases a second and third time.

    This is not to say that face to face interviews are all bad. It’s just that the blogosphere has provided additional options, which I think is good.

  3. I don’t worry about face to face interaction normally, but in my infrequent dealings with the media, it’s how what we say can be twisted to suit almost any agenda which is worrying. The LA Times is infamous for the ellipsis they often include in quotes, where the removed material completely changes the meaning of the statement. In a project several years ago that received international media coverage – we actually made the front page of the London Sunday Telegraph, with a color photo even! and articles picked up by AP and Reuters, the interviews were terrifying – I did several phone interviews (which I recorded) but stuck to email as much as possible. My main priority was to have my own record in case the reporter played games with my words later. We ended up turning down all TV requests, even though we wanted the publicity, because the “gotcha” is just too stressful.

    I agree with you that the “new media” options, where people can better measure their words, are a big improvement. And the irony here is that those options are popular in large part because of the media’s arrogant and often abominable behavior. They have only themselves to thank for the fact that people don’t want to talk to them.

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