May 22nd, 2007

Writing-Related Rant

A couple of months ago, I interviewed someone: a person in an artistic field, with some interesting life experiences. A person I enjoyed speaking with, despite some very definite weirdnesses (the interview took an explicit turn I didn’t anticipate!).


Because my editor decided we needed to play nice (the situation of this publication is somewhat unique; it’s not a daily newspaper with a lengthy journalistic history, and firm stands on issues like showing sources the entire story prior to publication), I emailed the subject the story.


The piece hadn’t taken the trajectory the subject anticipated. We arranged a phone date. The original interview was more than twice as long as my usual interviews; the phone follow-up was nearly an hour of the subject speaking to me in long, rambling statements (much like the original interview).


It was funny, because every now and then I heard a phrase I recognized from the original interview. I chuckled to myself. “Must be a pet phrase,” I thought.


Only when I was at last allowed to hang up, and I began revising the piece, did I realize that the subject had basically been reading me the entire thing. So now I had it in the same document twice: my original golden prose, and the secondhand, goldplated prose dictated to me by the subject.


Somewhat irritated, I finished revising and sent the piece back.


Then I got an email. The subject was so excited about the piece, and looking forward to another conversation to hammer out some more details.


I get the distinct feeling I sounded far less warm and fuzzy during this conversation than I had during our earlier ones. Why, you ask?


For one thing: the subject didn’t want to alter direct quotes as much as the stuff that I wrote, that came from me.


For another thing, the subject started out the conversation by saying that I didn’t need to type everything being dictated, because it would be emailed to me later. Long ramblings ensued. In the midst of one of them, the subject said, “And this is just me talking to you.” Which had the distinct ring of, “So you’d better be taking this all down, honey.” Only by that point I was scarcely listening anymore, and was scrolling through my Sitemeter statistics.


Today I set about revising. It went well. (At least, I thought so. The subject will no doubt have other things to say on that score.) I emailed the revision over.


But this is what I conclude:


Journalistic rules, like so many kinds of rules, exist for a reason. Never, never, never allow the subject access to the story. Quote reviews are one thing; but this is quite, quite, quite something else.



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