When the media becomes the story – why we must stick to the facts

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I was interested to read Johann Hari’s reaction to yesterday’s Twitter storm. The Orwell prize-winning writer had remained silent until today, despite a chain of events which led to the hashtag #interviewsbyhari being ranked third in the world.

In an industry so entrenched in social media, it’s not surprising that a high-profile interviewer and columnist like this would cause such an online frenzy, particularly as he has been accused of plagiarism.

In today’s commentary piece, Hari explains that he has ‘sometimes substituted a passage (interviewees) have written or said more clearly elsewhere on the same subject for what they said to (him), so the reader understands their point as clearly as possible’.

Whilst I understand that Hari is trying to make his articles clear and accessible to the reader, his approach leaves me feeling rather uneasy.

It’s his job as a journalist to obtain the quotes from the interviewee and then report what has been said. It’s not for him to quote what he believes is a clearer version of what that person’s said, even if they have said it before. The bottom line is that it’s inaccurate and misleading to the reader.

There is, of course, an awful lot of journalism that’s written purely for entertainment purposes and which stretches the facts to breaking point. These stories aren’t generally taken too seriously by readers, given the context in which they’re read. Hari’s articles, though, fall well outside the National Enquirer genre of journalism.  To his credit, he has now acknowledged that ‘an interview is not just an essayistic representation of what a person thinks; it is a report on an encounter between the interviewer and the interviewee’. Quite right too – as one of his readers, I would certainly rather he stick to the facts and not his edited version of them.

Everyone who operates in the world of media – journalists and PRs alike – have a responsibility to ensure the content we are disseminating is correct. The reason editorial is valued above all else is because the public perceive it to be true. High standards and adherence to factual content are paramount. Anything less questions the integrity of the media and undervalues what we do.