Even if you're not particularly interested in journalistic ethics (even if you know you should be), if you're a jobbing academic who does a bit of interviewing, the recent Bagehot column in the Economist is well worth a read (as are some of the comments following it). Ostensibly it is about [ the ought to be but amazingly isn't quite disgraced ] "journalist" Johann Hari, and his apology for an apology in the Indy last week. Hari blames ignorance for his "mistakes", and is off to journalism school – at his own expense, it seems. Bagehot writes:
... Mr Hari is ... blaming his interviewees for their lack of verbal polish. It is a nifty defence: there he was, travelling the world to meet all these famous and brilliant people, conducting all these excellent interviews, only to find, on returning to his hotel room to transcribes his tapes, that time and again his subjects had garbled their lines.
I do not recognise the phenomenon Mr Hari is describing. Some interviews go well, others less well. But in the midst of each conversation, as I write my notes, I am aware (sometimes heart-sinkingly aware) whether my subjects are saying interesting things or not. I also know something else: if you go to interview someone who is famous or important or witty or wise (as opposed to a member of the public swept up in a news event) and they say only boring or incoherent things, it is mostly your fault.
Quite so – just as it is for any academic who's seeking after data: the responsibility is ours alone.