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Day: June 29, 2011

Johann Hari: Guilty, but not of being a liar.

There are many things all journalists know but one thing is more important than all the others – when your name moves from the by-line to the title then something has gone awry. The story should never be about you and if a story is about you then nine times out of ten it’s not going to be a positive one – journalists rarely write a story on how good another journalist is.

So we get to the shenanigans of yesterday and the award winning journalist Johann Hari. There was a twitter storm as it came out that he had been using quotes from an interviewee but these quotes were not from interviews that he had done with them. They had either been quotes they had used in other interviews or had written themselves. This is of course pretty bad form. Twitter lapped it up like it does any shitstorm because in general people on twitter like to mock others undoings.

The journalist has responded on his own blog this morning in a blog posted entitled My response to yesterday’s allegations which is worth a read. For me though it just didn’t ring true. I know what he means about someone saying something but when you scribble it down it doesn’t scan right. However that is part of journalism and you need to find a way around it.

For example if Maria Sharapova was interviewed about her match with Laura Robson and had said ‘she played well, she become good player’ it clearly doesn’t scan in print. However you could make it scan very easily and not mis-quote anyone by re-writing it as thus ‘she played well, she [has] become [a] good player’. It is a well known way in journalism to not mis-quote someone but still get their point across and making it scan well. This is certainly something that many journalists do when interviewing or getting quotes from a non-native English speaker.

The apology for me is a bit meh. He should have apologised and whilst he is accurate that it is neither plagiarism nor is it churnalism it was still extremely poor etiquette. He seems more focused on defending himself from those allegations than he does apologising for his poor judgement. Hopefully he has learned his lesson that there are ways to make a quote scan well in print and still not mis-quote anyone. He is clearly a fine writer and journalist and hopefully this incident doesn’t detract from that. We all make mistakes in life and writing from deadbeat hacks like myself to established and world-renowned journalists. He does need to make a stronger apology for me but whether he does or he doesn’t I don’t expect him to be fired.

If he gets his head down and continues to put together well thought out and thought provoking articles then this incident will be forgotten by the masses. Some folk won’t of course as they never forget a mistake and these are the people that in general have never made a mistake in their lives because they are perfect. I wish I was perfect however I am not.

Hopefully the next time we read about Johann Hari it’ll be because his name is in the by-line and not in the title.

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