Media & PR

Could you edit The Guardian? Take a simple test

Here’s a simple test to see if you too have what it takes to edit The Guardian.

a. You have an interview lined up with a Treasury minister.

b. You have a journalist who happily admits they don’t understand the difference between a cyclical and structural deficit.

Do you say:

1. “Pah, so what? It’s not like we need an interviewer who can understand the basics of economics to interview an economics minister”, or

2. “Err, could we get a different interviewer?”

If your answer is #1: well done, you’re made it (as the third paragraph of this new interview with Danny Alexander demonstrates).

If your answer is #2: commiserations; join me in the corner muttering about what has British journalism come to and the modern fashion for thinking ignorance is admirable.

16 responses to “Could you edit The Guardian? Take a simple test”

  1. Seriously, can someone explain the logic of this editorial decision at The Guardian to me? I'm stumped

  2. The piece read as nothing more than asomething out of a trashy hello magazine.

    The Guardian has been a disgrace really.

  3. It's more complicated than just a 1) or 2) multi-choice. It depends who is available. Also it shouldn't really matter what the journalist's background is regarding interviews. All journalists are trained in interview technique. As to the difference between a cyclical and structural deficit, most members of the public, journalists and those involved with politics wouldn't understand "basic economics" as you put it, which is the way it is.

    If your readers aren't going to understand the difference between the two you have a choice as a journalist to do one of these options:-

    a) don't write about it,
    b) just quote what was said by the person in the interview.
    c) seek advice from an expert and/or.
    d) write it in a way the public understands.

    Oh and you could be relying on the subeditor/editor to know what they're editing too.

    Ignorance isn't admirable, but sometimes when writing you have to consider the audience and write to the lowest common denominator. It's how we in the party write Focuses after all!

    • Err, isn't the whole point of such an interview and article to inform readers, rather than just share the ignorance?

    • There is a big difference between writing an article in understandable language (good) and not understanding the issues you are writing about. How can an interviewer who doesn't understand the basic issues challenge what the interviewee says? Or know the right follow up questions or clarifications?

    • Yes it's organist. Would you prefer I call myself Director of Music? 😛

      In answer to Charles Reese, if the ignorance is shared, people can comment on it and point it out. However the way journalists write up interviews reflect the bias of the journalist and the interviewee.

      In answer to Neil Fawcett, yes I agree although in writing it in understandable language (or in the editing) the article changes and it can come across that the author doesn't understand the issues written about when it's either down to poor editing or just trying to make it understandable enough to be understood by a wider audience. Do that too much though and you get accused of "dumbing down".

      "How can an interviewer who doesn't understand the basic issues challenge what the interviewee says?"

      If they don't they can't. You're right, but if you challenge an interviewee and write up the article, they can make sure you don't get any further interviews with them (and the same goes for the organisation you're writing for). It can take a long set of negotiations and take months before relations are restored.

      "Or know the right follow up questions or clarifications?"

      It depends on the purpose of the interview really and you can do it one of two ways. You can just report what they said (often the safest) in quotes or you can clarify it so you're clearer as to what they meant. Some people speak so clearly (or verbosely) there's no need for follow up questions or clarifications on a certain point. Generally such issues should be dealt with during the interview. If a journalist is well prepared they will come with specific questions, some interviewees insist on these being shared in advance as a condition of the interview.

  4. @ John Brace "All journalists are trained in interview technique". I'm glad you didn't interject, "successfully". I'd also like to know if that sentence is intended as dogma or prayer.

    • It's not intended as dogma, just to reflect the fact that most organisations a journalist would be involved in have a duty to their employees regarding training. Even freelancers go on training courses. You're right though that training doesn't mean it's been taken on board in the way a person practices their skills, but everyone has to start somewhere.

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