Thursday, August 02, 2007

Editing Interviews and "the F-Word"

I have probably been interviewed more times than I have been an interviewer. But I know well from both ends how comments can be somehow transformed between tape recorder or notes and final publication. As an interview subject I am always careful to speak slowly and offer quotes that will (I hope) read well. I write down quotes for the reporter's use. I figure that if I'm not careful in what I say, the interviewer will end up writing what he thought I said, rather than what I said.

When I interview someone, I always ask the subject if it's okay to "clean up" some of the quotes, mainly by adding punctuation to eliminate confusing run-on and fragmentary sentences (although I may move sentences, too). But I promise to retain the sense and meaning of the original words, and I follow through on that promise. It's a courtesy that I haven't always been afforded as an interview subject, and one that you would do well to offer when you interview someone.

What about editing "objectionable" content or words? I ran into this when doing an interview with the late Martin Caidin, which turned into one of my favorite pieces--an article/interview in Writer's Digest.

The problem with quoting Caidin was that he always said what he meant, in the exact way he wanted to say it. And he used "colorful" language--just the sort of language that you might expect from a man who had, among other things, broken just about every bone in his body at one time or another in airplane crashes, faced a Bolvian firing squad, and crossed the Atlantic in a PBY Catalina. To him, "fucking" was an just adjective, like "sweet" or "ugly."

The editor, Bill Brohaugh, and I dithered over using every word of some really great quotes, worrying that doing so might offend a good many of the readers. In the end, we let all the colorful adjectives and nouns stay. It turned out to be a good decision; if we hadn't let Caidin speak in his own words, the profile would have lost some of the essence of his character, and thus its effectiveness.
Copyright 2007, Michael A. Banks

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