Hari apologises for journalistic methods
A social media storm, a series of jokes, a debate about journalistic practice. Thanks to Johann Hari.
Twitter produces a result: Johann Hari apologises.
Yes, the Independent journalist has conceded that it isn't OK to interview someone and then, in the feature based on the interview, to substitute words the person used elsewhere, including in their writing.
Big deal? Well, yes it has been - a social media storm that blew over in a day but was surprisingly fierce for the time of year (not quite the silly season).
The first I heard of it was yesterday morning in a tweet from @LizHannaford linking to a blog entitled 'Interview Etiquette' by Johann Hari.
- 'That wasn't exactly what he was saying. Here's how he put it:"Occasionally, at the point in the interview where the subject has expressed an idea, I've quoted the idea as they expressed it in writing, rather than how they expressed it in speech."Sounding a mite defensive already, Hari goes on:
"I called round a few other interviewers for British newspapers and they said what I did was normal practice and they had done it themselves from time to time.
...I'm open to suggestions from anyone who thinks there's a better way of doing this - I interviewed an incredible woman today which I'm writing up for Friday's Indie and I'm always keen to make sure my journalism gives the clearest and most accurate portrait of a person or issue I'm writing about. Drop me a line and let me know what you think."
Hari's call for feedback may have produced rather more than he'd expected.
And some of it was good stuff:
The Telegraph's Toby Young weighed in with a blog in which he traced the history of the controversy, citing Brian Whelan among others who had examined Hari's pieces in detail. Whelan sourced words from places other than Hari's interview.Young admitted: "It would be dishonest not to point out that many British journalists are guilty of this practice."But Young says that the suggestion that Hari claims as direct quotes, words that clearly came from elsewhere crosses a line:"It's the use of a phrase like 'I point this out, and he replies' that marks Hari out as a special case."Young concludes:"It will be interesting to see how Hari's editor, Simon Kelner, reacts to this. I would expect a 'clarification' to be published in the Independent at the very least. But I wouldn't be surprised if the repercussions for Hari's career are more serious."But others leapt to Hari's defence, or at least to put Young's admission of British journalistic habits in more robust terms.
Richard Peppiat, who resigned from the Daily Star protesting about its journalistic culture, thought the Hari matter small beer:
And from the other end of the newspaper market, Ben Goldacre complained that the kind of journalistic liberties taken by people he writes about in his Bad Science column in the Guardian don't get this kind of attention.
Polly Toynbee had defended Hari against charges of plagiarism - although plagiarism isn't the same as misattribution, and wasn't really what Hari was being accused of. Hari says he hasn't tried to pass off other people's work as his own.
(Update: what do you call passing off words spoken by your subject in someone body else's interview as words spoken by them to you? Guy Walters in the New Statesman has some new detailed analyses of Hari pieces.)
Abominartions? Good to see the Gruaniad's traditions carry across to Twitter.Three minutes later, a respectful voice of dissent came from Toynbee's colleague, Blogs Editor Matthew Wells:
- The Hari business had long begun to draw the attention of a wider circle. Business types were beginning to feel a bit left out:
It was left to a comedian to write what seemed like the last word on the subject. In The Thick of It, Chris Addison was caught up in many storms in teacups, but here he rose above it all:
- by Charles Miller
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