How to interview almost anybody for fun and profit

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After last week’s posts about the deception, plagiarism and Wikipedia editing conducted by Johann Hari (see Johann Hari’s apology is a “lesson in cynicism” and And another quote about Johann Hari), it’s beneficial perhaps to remember that the vast majority of journalists aren’t actually venal, immoral, plagiarists and phone-hackers.

Jason Arnopp has been interviewing people for so long that he reckons he’s amassed over 1,000 subjects in his 23-year career. And now he’s decided to write his own, self-published ebook full of interview technique tips.

Thankfully (because he’s a mate and it would be really embarrassing if it was awful) it’s good. Really good.

Continue reading “How to interview almost anybody for fun and profit”

How to interview almost anybody for fun and profit5Scott Matthewman2011-09-27 12:32:49

After last week’s posts about the deception, plagiarism and Wikipedia editing conducted by Johann Hari (see Johann Hari’s apology is a “less…

And another quote about Johann Hari

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.

Johann Hari’s apology is a “lesson in cynicism”

At heart is not Hari’s lack of journalistic education – as his new editor claimed ludicrously last night on Newsnight – but his very low opinion of journalism. You don’t stuff up your interviews with quotes from elsewhere and then pass them off as your own work unless you think that no-one will notice or care. You don’t pinch someone’s name to attack critics on Wikipedia unless you imagine colleagues are stupid. Ease of career passage has bequeathed Hari nothing but contempt and cynicism. His ‘apology’ is a lesson in cynicism.

Madame Arcati on Johann Hari’s admission that he plagiarised quotes for his interviews, and also used the pseudonym of “David Rose” to maliciously edit the Wikipedia page of other journalists he had fallen out with and attempted to edit his own to make it more positive. (For more background, see Jack of Kent’s blog post).