If you go to interview someone who is famous or important or witty or wise (as opposed to a member of the public swept up in a news event) and they say only boring or incoherent things, it is mostly your fault.
From The Economist’s Bagehot’s Notebook. Continuing:
If you come away with gems, you know it, and may call your editor to say: “It went really well, he gave me some really great quotes.” If you come away with a notebook full of mush, you are not allowed to go to another interview conducted by someone else who was given better quotes and take them without attribution. If you do, that is stealing.
For me, Johann Hari’s behaviour on Wikipedia – using a made-up persona to accuse journalists with whom he’d fallen out of homophobia, anti-Semitism, etc., while tidying up his own to paint him in a more positive light, is even more damning than his contempible disregard for basic common sense when it comes to interview technique.
That’s why, when the Independent’s new editor, Chris Blackhurst, says that there’s “no doubting [Mr Hari’s] talent as a columnist and we are hoping to see him back in the not too distant future,” my thoughts are (a) there bloody well ought to be doubts, and (b) the only reason you hope he’ll be back will be because of his notoriety value rather than his quality or unimpeachable reputation.
If he does ever return to national newspaper journalism, Johann Hari will have joined the ranks of Richard Littlejohn, Melanie Phillips and the like: employed not because the newspaper believes they are examplars of journalistic excellence, but because their appalling, unethical behaviour will sell newspapers/website page impressions by virtue of their freak-show nature.
Call me idealistic, but I don’t think that’s how newspaper editors should select their content.