How do scientists view fact-checking by science writers?

Many thanks to Columbia University virologist and science communicator Vincent Racaniello for providing great blog fodder last week in his This Week in Virology interview with Chicago Tribune science writer Trine Tsouderos. For those who didn’t follow the discussion last week, Trine spoke of her approach to fact-checking her work published at the Tribune by running content past the scientist sources cited therein. (Thanks also to Dr. Racaniello for selecting the post as his weekly pick.)

I have to admit to a certain degree of humble pride that our discussion about journalist fact-checking of science writing drew such widespread attention. The comment thread reads like a Who’s Who of science writing – to avoid the risk of leaving anyone out, just take a scroll through the comment thread and click on a few of the commenters’ URLs.

Thank you to all of you practicing writers for your contributions. I plan to distill and arrange the discussion in some other format that’s more readable than the nested format of blog comment threads. Many thanks also to James Hrynyshyn and Maryn McKenna for suggesting that we pitch a session on this topic for the upcoming ScienceOnline2012 unconference here in North Carolina in January.

Readers might be surprised to learn that my post reflecting on Trine’s fact-checking with scientist sources took about 15 minutes to compose. This burst of writing was stimulated in large part because I was somewhat surprised by Trine’s revelation that fact-checking directly with interview subjects was her common practice.

As George Johnson volunteered,

The ethics that have been instilled in me over many years is that it is forbidden to show unpublished copy to a source and that getting approval for the speaker’s quotations is a violation of the professional standards of journalism.

Indeed, I had long been under the impression that journalistic practice forbids such post-interview review. My understanding was supported further by my own lack of experience in science writers checking with me on final passages of stories where I’ve been quoted (I often get interviewed for my expertise in drug safety, herbal and other dietary supplements, and drugs of abuse). One caveat, though: I am more commonly asked to comment on trends and the reports of others rather than the work generated in my own laboratory.

The comment thread includes a wide spectrum of views on the pros and cons of the source-review approach, the risks of doing so, and the dependence of the practice on the form of writing (e.g., deadline writing vs. books. vs. magazine articles).

But while writers by and large indicated that they do fact-check with sources on the scientific accuracy of their work, they do so with explicit ground rules that do not allow the source to alter the tone or conclusions (an excellent example was shared by Maryn McKenna).

My reflections were further influenced by a glorious week spent this summer learning from practicing science writers – famous and not-quite-yet-famous – at the Santa Fe Science Writing Workshop founded by George Johnson and Sandra Blakeslee.

It ain't easy. Yours truly interviewing ribosomal crystallographer Ada Yonath two weeks after she shared the 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Credit: Robin Deacle/NC Biotechnology Center.

While I’ve been blogging for over five years, I’ve spent part of the last two thinking about my craft in preparation for a book proposal. I’ve been fortunate to co-author two books (1, 2) for doctors, patients, and general health consumers but these have primarily been expert guides and not long-form narrative storytelling.

So I’ve been paying more and more attention to the storytelling aspect of science journalism and thinking more about science from the science writer’s viewpoint, due in large part to the influence of three writers and their most recent works: Maryn McKenna’s Superbug, Deborah Blum’s The Poisoner’s Handbook, and Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

But the scientist in me was struck by the lack of input on last week’s post from scientists who have been interview subjects in stories by these and other science and health writers. My experience has been that while scientists and science writers have distinct though overlapping goals, scientist colleagues sometimes complain that writers “get it wrong.” As articulated by Maryn McKenna:

The thing that people should keep in mind — and this is so obvious as to be unstated to the journalists among us, but may be an unfamiliar thought to the scientist science-writers — is that we are not stenographers. The purpose of our existence is not to render your research only as correctly as possible, but to tell a story about a finding that puts it in context.

Here’s another related viewpoint by George Johnson in opposition to science writers and scientists operating collaboratively following quotations by Grant Jacobs of ideas into words by Elsie Hancock:

Journalism is by nature adversarial. With science stories, it is usually friendly adversity, but the writer and source have subtly different agendas.

John Rennie added:

This topic is probably worth its own separate giant comment thread, but the sometimes unhealthy degree of cooperation between scientists and the journalists reporting on them deserves scrutiny.

John also presented two devil’s advocate scenarios that logically caution against the direct fact-checking approach with scientist, both in the case of where the scientist disagrees or agrees with the writer’s conclusion.

Ed Yong, recognized for both the depth and accuracy of his writing, struck the middle of the road in noting that third-party fact-checking is important because, “we [journalists] don’t always know the ways in which we can screw up.”

So I’m interested how scientists view this discussion:

    If you’ve been interviewed for any mass media venue, how do feel about the experience?

    Or perhaps more generally: when you read about mass media writing in your specific research discipline, how do you feel about the accuracy of the coverage?

I realize that these questions are imperfect because one can’t compare writing by a dedicated science journalist – say, Amy Harmon or Steve Silberman – with that of a local deadline writer who’s covering everything from the crime beat and state fair to the latest local research university press releases. But I’d like to at least gather some scientist feedback.

Addendum (4:05 pm, 25 Sept): Bora Zivkovic, Editor of the Scientific American blog network, mentioned to me earlier this week (and noted below) a provocative post he wrote in June 2009 entitled, The Ethics of the Quote. He speaks there from both the standpoint of journalist and scientist interviewee.

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33 Responses to How do scientists view fact-checking by science writers?

  1. Kausik Datta says:

    I came across this later post after I had already finished asking a question to Trine, David and others after the previous post. Please allow me to rehash my questions here.

    Trine mentioned in a reply:

    If I had stuck with my original draft, it would have sailed into the paper and likely nobody would have called me to say, hey, that’s not really right. But, I still would have been wrong. And to scientists, I think, I would have lost a little bit of credibility by being imprecise in that way.

    To my mind, this is why there needs to be more of fact-checking, not less, on part of science-writers and science journalists. I greatly admire this attention to detail and precision that Trine demonstrated.

    In my comment after the previous post, I sought to make a distinction between ‘fact-checking’ and ‘interpretation-checking’. In his reply, David made that difference clearer. If I were a science journalist (I wish!), I would certainly do the fact-checking as Trine does. However, I would stay away from interpretation-checking. My interpretation of the data (facts, if you will) would be mine, reflecting the way in which I understood the work – with the proviso that interpretations may, and will, sometimes differ. Therefore, having a source (or even any other third party) check my interpretations may introduce an element of bias.

    I say this from the point of view of a working researcher as well. When consulting published, peer-reviewed papers, we often come across papers where there may be alternate (even broader or narrower) interpretations of the data (this is greatly facilitated by the availability of supplemental data in, say, the Open Access journals). We are given to understand that this is acceptable, that a complete picture often emerges only after reasons synthesis of multiple interpretations.

    So, my question to Trine and the others was: are the science-writers and science-journalists to be held to a higher standard? Are they expected to offer definitive pronouncements based on the data, rather than represent the data as they are – warts and all?

  2. Ed Yong says:

    I spent seven years working for a cancer charity, which included acting as a spokesperson for TV/radio/phone interviews (search for my name on, say, the BBC website to see what I mean). So let me dust that old hat off for this convo:

    I, and all of our spokespeople, were media-trained. It’s was always fascinating to contrast what I’d do as an interviewee and what I’d want an interviewee to do as a journo.

    George is spot-on when he says that “the writer and source have subtly different agendas.” As an interviewee, my job was to represent the charity’s point of view and get a name-check so people knew who we were. It was about providing a sensible, evidence-based opinion on the news of the day, and getting some publicity for the organisation. We were trained in what I’d call defensive interviewing – getting your “message” across, dealing with difficult or aggressive or nonsensival questions, and so on. All those skills are important because, frankly, some journalists are incompetent and unethical.

    But as a journalist who is not incompetent or unethical, it’s not the style I’d like an interviewee to have. Sure, I want decent soundbites and cogent explanations, but I also want someone to answer the difficult questions, really given an insight into a topic and have a conversation with me. I don’t just want some stock quotes.

    So, yes, there are different agendas and a certain tension. In some cases, that worked for both parties but frankly, if journalist-me interviewed spokesperson-me, I’d try and push spokesperson-me a bit harder. And if anyone ever gave me a “This study is interesting and more work needs to be done” quote, I’d just bin it and make a mental note to find a different source.

  3. Coturnix says:

    I am glad that you state:

    “I realize that these questions are imperfect because one can’t compare writing by a dedicated science journalist – say, Amy Harmon or Steve Silberman – with that of a local deadline writer who’s covering everything from the crime beat and state fair to the latest local research university press releases. ”

    I often try to make this distinction, but whenever I write a broadside specifically against the latter type, I get accused of forgetting about the existence of the former. Sigh.

    A couple of years ago I wrote a very strong-worded and provocative post – The Ethics of The Quote – that got a lot of pushback when the former type did not realize I was attacking the latter type. But, missing the point entirely, it was not a broadside as much as a reminder that this is the age of the Web. All our stuff appears online even if some of that may also appear on paper. Thus, we need to start thinking like online writers and see what practices enhance our trust with readers (and researchers) who are used the online world even if some of us may not be. And the main currency of trust online is the link. If you cite, you have to link to the original document you cited. If you quote, you need to link to the original text. If the quote comes from an interview you conducted yourself, you need to provide the entire original transcript or audio file and link to it. This way, your pre-publication fact-checking can be enhanced by post-publication fact-checking by the commenters. If there is no link, that is a red flag that you have something to hide, thus you lose trust. If there is a link, even if only a handful of people click on it, you gain trust with the audience.

  4. John Rennie says:

    This comment thread should properly belong to scientists, so I’m embarrassed to jump in again, but if I may agree and react to Ed’s point:

    What scientists need to remember is that when they engage with the media, their science is going to be turned into a story. If the scientists haven’t already refined what they communicate into the story they want told, reporters will write the story they want.

    Conversely, if reporters are content simply to repeat whatever stories the scientists tell them, then they are practicing public relations, not journalism.

    Hence the inherent tension.

  5. Snarkyxanf says:

    This is going to sound terrible, but as a mathematician-in-training, I’m starting to feel relieved that my work is unlikely to ever attract the interest of the public and journalists, thereby saving me the trouble of having to figure out how to communicate through the media.

    I don’t think I could trust my expository skills enough to deliver, over the course of a short interview, what would be needed to make a story that is both interesting and not wrong.

  6. So glad to see this topic brought up – actually this is one of the main reasons that I proposed the “Why Scientists Hate & Fear the Media” session at #scio12. Over the last 2.5 years, I have done way more than my share of media interviews as part of the huge public interest in my research area, the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch.” I think the stories turn out much better when the writers do a quick fact check with me & other sources. The vast majority of corrections I have made are small details that 99% of the public would never notice, but 99% of ocean scientists would.

    I don’t think that journalists realize that MY credibility as an early-career scientist is on the line every time I do an interview. Most scientists don’t know me – I’m a graduate student still trying to finish my very first first-author manuscript. The only thing they know about me is what they see in the media, and when that is factually incorrect they assume that it is my fault, not that of the journalist. It is no honor whatsoever when someone at conference says with a grim expression “Yes, I saw you in that article. You’re quite the celebrity, aren’t you.” I do these interviews because I care about communicating my research to a broad audience, but there is a huge downside and minimal professional benefit (at least, if I wanted to become an academic).

    If journalists want to have a cordial relationship with scientists (and get beyond canned & stilted responses, as Ed says above), fact-checking is an excellent way to build trust. It is true that scientists should understand that journalists need to tell a story and are not required to make scientists’ suggested changes, but I truly think that 90%+ of likely scientists’ edits would not impact the overall thrust of a story. Please, please, please fact-check when possible.

  7. David Kroll says:

    Miriam, I’m so glad that you speak up on behalf of your discipline. But I do know how you feel sometimes about the downside. Part of this is due to the lack of substantive academic rewards for outreach activities and part is due to just simply envy and/or jealousy (as with the grim-faced conference colleague). But I know your writing and clarity of your expression – please don’t stop taking interview requests, as a grad student or down the road.

    Ed has superb points in contrasting his experiences as an interviewer. I’ve often wished that I could give the journalist more concrete conclusions, particularly to offset what I know are going to be non-science-based quotes from other interviewees.

    For example, I was recently interviewed for a story on community-supported agriculture marketing of locally-grown medicinal herbs in Massachusetts. The journalist was excellent – health reporter Karen Brown of WFCR-FM at UMass Amherst who then fashioned her radio piece into an article for The Boston Globe. I knew that herbalists were going to talk non-scientifically about the “benefits” of these herbs because they are not bound by science-based ethics; their statements were clearly going to make a better “story” because I couldn’t forcefully refute their claims without scientific testing locally-grown herbs for a given condition.

    Instead, I could really only say that while I understand there’s a nice emotional attraction to seeing where the herbs are grown, it’s just as much of a crapshoot as with retail herbal products whether any of these actually “work.” I even remember telling Karen that I wished I could point to a solid published work concluding that locally-grown herbs were just an ineffective as many of the standardized herbal remedies sold in the health food stores and on the internet. I could have certainly been harsh and dismissive but I do know that growing conditions do indeed affect the chemical composition of some medicinal plants – I just couldn’t tell you if they’d have a more beneficial effect when taken by consumers.

    As a result, and not much to my surprise, my quote doesn’t end up until the article’s webpage 3 of 3, long after the herbalists have had their say. Sometimes it’s just not possible to be the ideal interviewee that Ed would like (or I would like to be) but I’ll definitely be thinking more about how to be one, especially if interviewed by Ed!

  8. Grant says:

    in opposition to science writers and scientists operating collaboratively following quotations by Grant Jacobs

    Just for clarity: I wasn’t advocating any particular position. What Hancock wrote struck me as in similar vein to what others had written so I thought to transcribe it and share it. I have to admit was a bit taken aback by some of the responses, I read as implying I’d offered it to be contrary to the topic, leaving me wondering if some had read too much into the word ‘collaboration’.

    If you don’t take the word too literally, checking with the source about facts is, in a sense, “collaborating”—note the inverted commas—on fact-checking (not the writing – Hancock expressly excluded commitment to scientists rewriting her words or to literally showing them copy). It seems to me that there is still plenty of scope here to be probing, too – ?

    John Rennie wrote: “Hence the inherent tension.”

    I would have thought the conflict is over how they—the scientists—are represented, not over that is a “story” in itself. (Reading further, Mariam’s comment shares what I take to be similar thoughts.) After all, seemingly everyone bemoans ‘media stories’! :-)

    But to answer what David actually asked (!):

    “Or perhaps more generally: when you read about mass media writing in your specific research discipline, how do you feel about the accuracy of the coverage?”

    Ed is quoted as writing (in the other thread) “we [journalists] don’t always know the ways in which we can screw up.”

    I agree. My reading suggests even ‘specialist science writers’ get some things wrong.

    One reason, as I see it, is that they are for the most part—unavoidably—generalists writing within a very broad field (biology, medicine, etc). A perhaps related theme is a tendency to present very cutting-edge work “hot off the presses”, which are almost invariably still ‘live’ with outstanding issues. A full understanding of the state of play may not be there, or even there to be had.

    Kausik Datta wrote: “My interpretation of the data (facts, if you will) would be mine, reflecting the way in which I understood the work – with the proviso that interpretations may, and will, sometimes differ.”

    I once suggested that perhaps (MSM) media should ask and distinguish more clearly “what is known”, from opinion or interpretation. At that time I was mainly thinking of television interviews, but as you’re saying this has wider application.

  9. David Kroll says:

    No worries, Grant – I knew that you weren’t espousing the viewpoints of Elsie. I tried to point out that you were merely providing us with quotations from her book.

    And thanks for the other comments as well!

  10. Most science writers are knowledgeable but some are not. I recall a colleague of mine developed a new spectroscopic technique which led to an interview with a local newspaper’s science writer. When asked what he was studying, the scientist replied that the first tests were to study water. In answer to the question “Why water?” he replied, that water is contained in many substances, and as an example he said that potatoes were 90% water. Headline came out “Scientists uses new technique to bombard potatoes.”

  11. Kausik Datta says:

    Headline came out “Scientists uses new technique to bombard potatoes.”

    That’s priceless!

  12. Hi Kausik. Thanks for the kind words!
    I don’t think science writers should be held to a higher standard, but we should be held to the same standard as other journalists (ie, we should get it 100 percent right).
    As for offering definitive pronouncements, I think it depends on the topic. If there is a consensus based on vast data piled up from many good-quality studies, well, sure, we can say that (climate change comes to mind, as does evolution and the exoneration of vaccines as a cause of autism). If the evidence is weak, or mixed, well, we should say that, I think. Sticking to the data, and writing simply what they show, frees us from making mistakes akin to DEWEY BEATS TRUMAN (to take a famous example from my newspaper’s long and illustrious history).

  13. What a great example. But ugh, no? If the writer had only called your colleague before he published, he would have gotten it right, not wrong.

  14. Grant says:

    I noticed your carefully-worded phrasing! 😉

    Sorry if my comment is over-worked. I over-think things as a matter of course… (Or even as a matter of principle!)

  15. Ruth Seeley says:

    That’s where media training comes in, and the development of key messages (which are surprisingly hard work – you wouldn’t think writing three sentences could take several smart people three or more hours, but they do). The back and forth involved in developing key messages ensures you’re neither talking over people’s heads nor talking down to people. While there may be some people who are good at developing their own key messages, I’ve never encountered one. It’s only by having what you’ve just said fed back to you by someone who isn’t a subject matter expert that you begin to understand who your audience actually is. They may be smart, they may be educated, but they don’t know your field (I’m talking about reaching general audiences through general interest publications).

    If you’re talking to ‘trade media’ – reporters who write for publications where you can assume a far greater in-depth knowledge of your field, the key messages are different. And if someone is writing a feature article for a magazine rather than a 500-piece for a daily newspaper, the game changes again. Good media prep gives you both the opportunity to rehearse what you want and need to say so you’ll be both a more confident and credible spokesperson, and it also gives you valuable feedback so you can avoid veering off course and ‘drilling down’ too far.

    As an example – I once had to get to the bottom of a situation involving chlorine being used to kill zebra mussels clogging the fresh water intake valve at a power generator. I spent an hour and a half with the person who worked most closely to implement the program. He had an inch and a half thick stack of papers with charts, dates, amounts of chlorine, number of zebra mussels, etc. etc. Spittle flew. I thought I’d go out of my mind listening to details no one (other than he) needed to know. Finally – finally – finally – we got to the bottom line: the ratio of chlorine to fresh water was equal to that of one drop per litre. THAT was what the media (and the general public) needed to know. THAT was the context that needed to be supplied. No journalist would have put up with what I, as the corporate communications person, had had to go through. If they’d been given that stack of charts, reports and raw data without any context being supplied they would have been totally bewildered (not to mention the colossal waste of their time it would have been).

    So it’s a gestalt process, really – you speak, I tell you what I heard you say, you realize I’m not getting it and rephrase, I ask lots of questions and help you get to the point where you say and what I hear are actually pretty much the same thing.

  16. Travis says:

    Thanks for creating this great discussion, David, I’ve really enjoyed reading it.

    One quick question for the professional journos out there – how many journalists record their interviews (especially phone interviews) with scientists? I’ve been interviewed a couple dozen times, and only once has the person ever asked “do you mind if I record this?”. It can’t prevent every problem, but it would have prevented *most* of the situations where I’ve been misquoted (of course it can’t do anything if you happen to misspeak), and would help reduce the need for follow-up fact-checking in some circumstances.

    It just seems so cheap and simple, I’ve been surprised that I’m not asked that at the start of every interview. Is it just the people that I’ve been speaking with, or is it still relatively uncommon to record interviews?


  17. Kausik Datta says:

    That is a great question! Actually, when doing these interviews, perhaps scientists and journalists should both record the session. It would prevent a lot of miscommunication and/or misunderstanding. The journalist can be sure that s/he is quoting the scientist correctly and in the correct context; the scientist can be assured that s/he has been quoted correctly. In that context, does anyone here remember the episode when PZ was interviewed for that godawful movie ‘Expelled’, and then they misquoted him and misrepresented his statements?

  18. Kausik Datta says:

    Poor guy! He must have been bursting at the seams with all that data he had gathered, and all he desperately needed was a sympathetic ear, to be able to make a clean breast of it – and then you came along, to lend your ears to him.

    I love your approach here:

    it’s a gestalt process, really – you speak, I tell you what I heard you say, you realize I’m not getting it and rephrase, I ask lots of questions and help you get to the point where you say and what I hear are actually pretty much the same thing.

    However, it appears to require a lot of time and patience. Are professional journalists able to spare those?

  19. Thanks again David for this thread and the previous one. They are treasure troves of insight.
    I have a question as a researcher. I’m science education researcher, though, not a scientist and I’m trying to figure out how that might change the perspective. Just to be up front, I’ve only been interviewed for a print publication once and it was a very positive experience. The writer did a terrific job of describing our conversation and she even won an award for her piece. So, I don’t at all have any negative experiences from that side of things.
    My negative experiences are mostly in seeing my field represented in the media. I find so many science education articles frustrating, often filled with folksy assumptions about science teaching. (I think 50% of my blog writing is dedicated to this frustration…). In David’s previous post and here, the idea of the difference between checking facts and interpretations has been brought up, and in the context of the examples given it makes a lot of sense. In science education research stories, though, the problem isn’t usually misunderstanding the facts or findings of a study (our discipline just isn’t complex like that – the findings are usually pretty straightforward). The problem is almost always in the interpretation and the assumptions that come into the way the research and the results are presented.
    Any suggestions? Or am I overstepping and trying to minimize the journalists’ job of creating a narrative and context for readers?

  20. This might be slightly off-topic, but I’m glad to see Bryan mentions headlines. As a scientist the things that make me cringe most are headlines that misrepresent science, are misleading, or even just completely false. One example just today was the headline “Modified vaccine shows promise in preventing malaria” where the article was about a vaccine that boosts immune responses and the last sentence actually says that the next step will be to see if the vaccine could prevent malaria. A small example, but just one of many misleading headlines that misrepresent the science in the article.

    I know that sub-editors write headlines, not the journalist who wrote the article, but it is one area that I feel fail most often. And as most people often only read the headlines, and don’t make it all the way to the end of the article, I feel like an effort should be made to make sure they’re accurate.

  21. Marta Gwinn says:

    Getting the facts right is necessary (though not sufficient) for good science writing. As others have already pointed out, factual errors undermine the credibility of both the writer and the source. When I worked at CDC as an AIDS epidemiologist in the late ’80’s-’90’s, we received many calls from reporters. Our chief, Dr. D, had a yellowed newspaper clipping tacked next to his office door, which quoted him as saying that “twenty-five percent of men in New Jersey have AIDS.” The reporter must have sensed that something was not quite right because the next sentence stated that “Dr. D was on his way to China and could not be reached for comment.” Perhaps more challenging for today’s reporters is chipping through the gloss that typically coats new findings described in press releases issued by research institutions and publishers. It really is essential to ask others in the field for an assessment. See Andrew Revkin’s blog in today’s NYTimes for thoughtful comments on this topic and more.

  22. Kim Hannula says:

    One reason for scientists to blog: they can control how their story is told. They can choose their storylines, rather than allowing someone else to decide what is interesting in their story.

    (As an aside: I once had a request for an interview about a science career issue for a magazine, based on blogging I had done. I thought about granting the request, but decided to turn it down. The story was about me, and my career, and I wanted to keep control over how my personal story was told. My career continues, and I didn’t want it to be damaged by allowing myself to become a character in someone else’s story.)

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  26. Amelia Bellamy-Royds says:

    Not sure if anyone else is still reading this thread, but for the record, Travis, your phone interviews are probably recorded more often than you think.

    Having recently gone through journalism school (in Canada, for what it’s worth — practices and legal concerns may differ elsewhere), the general consensus of most lecturers was that if the recording is for your own reference and fact checking purposes, you don’t need to specifically ask permission or even warn the person on the other end of the line. If you’ve introduced yourself as a journalist, and no agreement has been made about the conversation being off the record, then it is assumed that anything said can be quoted, and having a recording helps everyone by making sure those quotes are accurate.

    I got in the habbit of recording everything; it let me focus on the conversation and not on the transcription. In person I would explain what I was doing and why, on the phone it would depend on who was on the other end of the line — I’d usually only mention it if the interviewee was someone unused to talking with the media or the subject was personally sensitive. (Or if there was any chance I might want to use the audio in some sort of published multimedia work).

    But that’s the impression of a recent grad — some more established writers may be less likely to depend on recordings (which is to say, more confident in their note-taking abilities!). And there may be differences between countries, as well; a friend of mine from the UK stunned us Canucks when he explained that newspaper training programs there still emphasize the importance of learning shorthand.

  27. David Kroll says:

    Hi Amelia – thanks for your comments. We’re still reading!

    I really appreciate your insights. I just simply assume that I’m being recorded when I’m being interviewed. The majority of US states (38 plus the District of Columbia) do not require that the other party be informed that the other is being recorded. But those laws are mostly there to address wiretapping, not journalist-interviewee interactions.

    I’ve only done a little bit of interviewing and haven’t recorded others – but wished I had, again, because I wish my note-taking skills were better.

  28. Hi Amelia,

    Some states do require that both parties know they are being recorded, so I think it’s always a good idea to give a heads up before you do.

    When I worked at People, we recorded interviews, even ones that lasted many hours. Then we had to trascribe them, a process that could take dozens of hours. It was incredibly laborious and soured me a little bit on recording, although sometimes I still do it. It’s a great way to ensure quotes are correct (and to have a good record proving that if there are questions), but often a time-consuming exercise.

    Anyway, good practice if you have the stamina for the transciption process!


  29. Travis says:

    Thanks for those responses, very helpful!

    I often wonder how a journalist would react if I were to ask if *I* could record the conversation for my own records, or to post on the blog once their article has been published. Since a 10 minute interview can often be squished into a sentence or two, I’ve often thought that it’s a shame that so much content gets wasted. I’m guessing that journalists might be less keen on this though.

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