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 AJR  Columns :    THE ONLINE FRONTIER    

From AJR,   January/February 2003  issue

Every Last Word   

Sources who publish transcripts of their interviews? Itís becoming more common.

Related reading:   E-mail thread between Barb Palser and Sheila Lennon

By Barb Palser
Barb Palser (bpalser@gmail.com), AJR's new-media columnist, is vice president, account management, with Internet Broadcasting.     

After giving an interview to New York Times contributor David F. Gallagher for an article about journalist bloggers, Sheila Lennon, features & interactive producer at projo.com, did what a blogger might do: She posted the full text of the e-mail interview on her personal Weblog, The Reader, (www.lennon2.com).

"David asked fine questions, and I didn't wince when I read my answers," wrote Lennon, who also runs a media and technology blog on the Providence Journal's site. "It seemed natural for me to publish 'the rest of the story' online for readers who might be interested."

Several fellow bloggers applauded Lennon's instinct--including Gallagher himself, who had room for only one sentence of the interview in his September 23 story. "Your answers were great so I'm glad they're out there," Gallagher, whose blog can be found at www.lightningfield.com, wrote in an e-mail to Lennon.

In his blog (kenlayne.com), online journalist Ken Layne commented on Lennon's motive: "Not for any 'Gotcha!' reasons," Layne wrote, "just to get the long exchange out there and add context to her quotes in the paper.... It's just cool to have the whole article-generating process made public."

That's easy for a blogger to say, but what was natural to Lennon is still novel to many journalists. Not only had she revealed the raw material of a story; she'd empowered herself as a citizen publisher and an interviewee.

More and more, the exchanges that precede news stories are making it onto the Web. This is different from a news organization publishing an article in Q&A style, or offering a broadcast transcript online. It's a decision, usually by the reporter or the source, to share parts of conversations that didn't make the cut.

Most journalists who publish interviews they've conducted are like Lennon and Gallagher--Web-savvy and loath to let a good thought go to waste. Not all interviews are interesting or coherent or even publishable, but every reporter knows the regret of culling one quote from an amazing conversation. Why not invite the audience to read (or hear) the interview? But does a journalist who publishes her source material somehow betray the finished story?

"Not every traditional reporter will feel this way, but I don't think supplying a transcript undercuts the writer at all," Lennon says. "The reporter creates the backbone of the report, mulching all the facts into a story people will want to read. Then you throw up links to the rest of the photos, the interviews, the principals' Web sites--primary sources, for those interested in a fuller report."

Readers aren't the only ones who benefit from this type of transparency, says Jonathan Dube, publisher of CyberJournalist.net. Dube considers the U.S. Department of Defense's Web site (defenselink.mil) a "journalist's gold mine" of speeches, briefings--and transcripts of every media interview given by top DoD officials. The site is a prime venue for what he calls interview voyeurism--journalists can not only spy on the techniques of their colleagues, but pluck quotes for their own stories since the interviews are public record.

The really revolutionary scenario, though, is the source who publishes his or her interview. Almost anyone can set up a virtual press in order to contribute to the reporting process, talk back to a journalist or set the record straight. If the speaker or subject is interesting enough, it's conceivable the unedited conversation could be as widely read as the reporter's story.

"Traditional reporters who think of the Web as just another way to publish the same story they'd write for print are the ones most likely to be rattled by the source putting up the conversation," says Lennon. "Online journalists are more likely to understand the freewheeling nature of the Web--the synergy that comes when their story stands on its own and the source's transcript sends more people to the reporter's story....

"Everybody knows of somebody who made a joke, or worse, as an interview ended and that's the only thing [that] got in the paper. So it's good that the Web lets everybody get their story out."

We are learning that people often are as interested in the ingredients of a news story as the story itself. The infinite and egalitarian nature of the Web needn't change the way stories are told, and it certainly doesn't replace the role of the professional journalist. It does offer a chance for the reporter to use the words that wouldn't fit, for the source to say what he wishes had been published, for the reader to go as deep into the story as she desires.

In that spirit, click here for my interview with Sheila Lennon.