Journalists ‘should be interviewed once a year’

John Longhurst on the Canadian Journalism Project suggests journalists should be interviewed themselves from time to time, so they know what it’s like.

And that the interview should be published, so they know what it’s like to have a stranger’s account of themselves on public display.

I agree. I’ve been interviewed a few times over the years and I find it quite disconcerting being on the receiving end of the questions, rather than asking them.

Harder still to not be in control of how the interview notes are written up, which quotes are chosen and what context is given.

Frustrating to see my name misspelled, past job titles inflated or conflated; and short quotes look odd when singled out from a longer conversation.

It’s an eye opener.

No doubt there are countless others who’ve been interviewed and wept when they saw how their 20-minute conversation got condensed into a couple of paragraphs stripped of nuance, context and in some cases rendered insensible.

Journalists are just doing their job, of course. They have to distill and compress information and quotes if they are to fit them inside their 400-word or 60-second story slots.  But it wouldn’t hurt for journalists to get a sensitivity check now and then.

Here’s how John puts it:

It’s hard to explain the sense of vulnerability you feel as you hand your story and comments over to someone who may — or may not — really understand what you are trying to do or say…

Those who do the interviewing likely seldom think of how it must feel to be at the other end of the process. It’s just part of the job — maybe just one of two or three stories that have to be chased down that day.

But for the person being interviewed, it may be one of the most important experiences of their life. For many people — for those who are not professionally involved in work that requires them to deal with the media — it may be the only time in their whole lives that they will be in the newspaper or on the radio or TV. It’s an awesome responsibility for a journalist.

My experience of being interviewed, and doing interviews, makes me think that all reporters should be interviewed at least once a year…

It goes without saying that the subject cannot see the end result before it is published or broadcast. To maximize the anxiety, the final result should be posted on the Web or some other conspicuous place where anyone can see it.”


2 replies on “Journalists ‘should be interviewed once a year’”

  1. Fantastic article and terrific idea.

    I especially like how John points out that for the interviewer the process could be one of a potential handful you’ll do that day or week on the subject but for the interviewee it could be the most important/frightening/invasive or courageous thing they’ve done that day.

    I think as journalist’s it can be easy to be so driven by your story and getting the facts that you can forget that.

    Some of the best advice i ever received that seems obvious when you read it but harder in practice, is simply to listen to the subject. And listen intently, without prejudice and with a genuine interest. This will allow the interview to go where it needs to go, you’ll have a better understanding of your subject and your story will be potentially better.

    1. Hi Lucy,

      I liked that point John made too, about it being one interview in many for us but a BIG DEAL for the interviewee.
      And I agree with you that we can forget that we’re dealing with people and not just facts and deadlines.
      Nice advice about listening – although hard to do sometimes when you’re thinking about so much else:)

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