A lot of people think about software when they hear the words “open source,” but I’d like to extend the concept to “media”. By that I mean books, tv, magazines, radio, etc.
The basic idea is simple — suppose you’re reading a book about Jack Kennedy that makes an interesting claim and then cites its source with a footnote to an “NBC Interview with Jack Kennedy: Chet Huntley and David Brinkley in the Oval Office in the White House, Sept 9, 1963.”
One of my first questions would be: “Can I get a transcript of the interview?” A second would be: “Can a get a recording of the whole interview?” Without the first, I can’t verify what the president said. Without the second, I can’t contextualize what was said.
Two related questions this raises are: “What are the ground rules for the interview;” and “How much editing was done to produce the final product?”
It’s interesting that in Brinkley’s interview, the president was given a number of “mulligans,” although he appears not to have seen the questions ahead of time.
One of the commenters noted:
The media and politicos are in cahoots, rehearsing the interview.
Ground Rules for Interviewing
So I’ve been thinking: “What are fair ground rules for an interview?” Here’s a few ideas:
- The full recording, including out-takes, should be available for the historical record. (How soon is that?)
- Should anything be left out of the transcript? Inevitably I think the answer will have to be yes, unless you get rid of all “off-the-record” interviews. I also think the appropriateness of off-the-record remarks varies according to the degree of power that the interviewee has. The secrets of the powerful often warrant less protection than the secrets of the weak.
- It may take time to gain the trust of the interviewee; and in real-life, the interviewer only begins recording when trust has been established and the interviewee is ready.
The Complete Record
I’ve sometimes wondered, what would happen if journalists tried to put everything on the record. They would record their telephone calls asking for the interview. They would share all their email correspondence. They would begin recording as they approached the office or home of the interviewee and then just keep filming until after they left. And they would publish the entire contents of this “record” with every interview they did. This is now feasible on the web, whereas it was impractical in the television or print-only world.
Paris Review Style Interview
An alternate model is employed by the literary journal “The Paris Review.” It’s editors like to select their favorite authors to interview; and they give the authors full license to edit their answers.1
Naturally, the authors are used to choosing their words carefully; and this approach allows them to extend such care to the interview. It allows the author to say exactly what they want, potentially resulting in more clarity, or alternatively less accountably.
Speaking about interviewing authors, David Fenza says:
A good literary interview is not faithful to the actual spoken event. The transcript of the actual spoken interview should only serve as a draft of a dialogue that will, eventually, present the writer as completely and succinctly as possible. A good literary interview is improvisational, but it’s also revisionary. Writers are creatures who succeed through revision; they are most themselves when they revise; and this should carry over into the interview.2
When to allow a “Paris-Review” style interview depends on the type of interview desired. In any case, the ground rules should be disclosed.
If a President is given chances to “edit” their answers, there should be some indication of this when the interview is published. But no matter how the interview is edited or revised, can the full historical record be preserved?
It is common to see something like “This is an edited and condensed version of the interview.” It would be interesting to see some sort of statistical disclosure about how much of the included text was changed; and how much was excluded.