When your participant repels and scares you
October 23rd, 2014
Embedded above is a fantastic and disturbing episode of Love + Radio. Nick van der Kolk and Noah Morrison visit Jay Thunderbolt, who upon beginning the interview, aggressively reiterates his demand for payment (not possible for public radio, which Jay knew). Noah ends up going on a liquor run instead, as Jay offers him a pistol or Kevlar vest. Jay never stops insulting the interviewers, and stories of violence abound; indeed at one point he points a gun at Nick’s head. Meanwhile, they are interviewing Jay about the strip club he runs out of his house.
Yikes. This sounds like some of the War Stories, doesn’t it?
I don’t know what is going through Nick’s head as he’s doing this interview, but as I listen I find myself strongly repelled by Jay. And while the interview here is edited, so we don’t know all that happened, but Nick never reveals discomfort or lets Jay’s obvious provocations get to him. His patience and tolerance create room for Jay’s story to come out, and while Jay is not an appealing individual, you begin to understand and accept him as he is. Well, I did. Your experience may vary.
Nick finally responds to Jay’s taunting at the end, when he asks Jay “Do you think you understand the way I feel about you?” and Jay admits that he doesn’t. It’s a powerful moment in an intense interview.
The veneer of empathy
July 17th, 2014
From this article about newsroom practices at USA Today
For Social Media Tuesdays, the staff must act as if there is no other way to get their articles except through sites likes Facebook and Reddit. That means USA Today’s journalists diligently place each of their famously punchy, graphic-rich stories onto various social media platforms. The purpose is to get them thinking like their readers, who increasingly get news through their Twitter feeds instead of the paper’s front page or home page.
“Think like your reader” is a generous framing as it highlights empathy, and who wouldn’t want their company, their products, their staff to be more empathetic? In fact, trying to get attention through social media is an exercise in manipulation (see Harry McCracken’s analysis/history of the “restore your faith in humanity” flavor of linkbait). That’s not empathy.
I’m not sure if this distortion was introduced by the reporter directly or whether they simply took what they were given at face value. Either way, that’s poor journalism (which is ironic in an article about the challenges facing the newspaper industry).
Now, the idea of taking what you know how to do and setting it aside, as a creative constraint, is a fabulous approach, like something from Oblique Strategies (See more about Brian Eno, one of the creators of Oblique Strategies, in this great article about his approach to art and creativity).
People Like Us
December 13th, 2012
People Like Us was a mockumentary that ran on BBC radio in the late 90s before becoming a TV show. The radio shows are hilarious and a great illustration of what can and does go wrong in fieldwork. Each episode is essentially a total War Story.
The shows follow a hapless reporter, Roy Mallard, investigating the lives and work of ordinary people: a bank manager, an artist, a stay-at-home mom, an actor and so on. Things go awry: despite being married (Really? You?) he finds himself awkwardly attracted to an interviewee, only to realize that another interviewee is her bitter ex-boyfriend. He’s a passenger in a recklessly driven car. He’s witness to firings, incompetency, violence, relationship hassles. He trips, drops things, is sneezed upon, breaks a washing machine, and more.
At the same time, his attempts to interview people and get to the heart of what their lives are about are thwarted. If not by circumstances, then by the inarticulateness of his interviewees, or by their sheer misinterpretation of his questions (e.g., Q: You’ve been here for a long time. What kind of things have changed? A: My hair.)
People Like Us manages to be completely absurd yet with an eye-rolling kind of truth that any user researcher (and journalist, I imagine) will identify with.
The radio series has been posted to YouTube and I’m embedding all the episodes as a playlist below. Check ’em out and let me know what you think.
Tales From the Magazine Stand
December 8th, 2009
Loss leader. Get a free CD of The Wall with the current issue of Mojo.
In the “magazines I didn’t know existed” category…Armchair General. The current issue’s main topic – War!
And finally, the Harvard Business Review and Strategy + Business – both focusing this month on innovation.
Real stories from real people inspire change
February 19th, 2008
Developments Magazine highlights an interviewing method that is part-historian, part-journalism, part-ethnography (and you could probably throw in participatory design and co-creation for a higher buzzword count). But the thrust is that stories, built from the details of the lives of real people are more effective drivers of change for advocates and policymakers and other stakeholders.
National newspaper, TV and radio journalists spent three days recording the lives of more than 30 rural people in Sindh province – people whose main qualification for being interviewed was their poverty.
These life stories were gathered by the Panos network and partners using a painstaking method of interviewing which emphasizes patient listening and open ended questions. The result was that those journalists are now more inclined to highlight the problems faced by the people they met and others like them.
These interviews were gathered using a method known as ‘oral testimony‘, which sets out to record the fine detail of the lives of people in developing countries. This involves ‘active listening’ and encouraging the interviewee to dictate the direction of the interview.
Free as in coffee
November 8th, 2007
Now Bay Area Starbucks shops offer free iTunes access
The new service lets customers shop for music wirelessly through iTunes at Starbucks for free.
The iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store operates on the new iPod Touch, iPhone and Wi-Fi-enabled PCs and Macs using one of the latest versions of iTunes. Users are automatically connected to the coffee shop’s wireless Internet network and can see – and purchase – the song that’s currently playing in the store. Each coffee shop is configured individually so that the song piped through the store’s speakers is the same song that appears on the front page of the user’s iTunes.
The free wireless Internet access also only applies to the iTunes Store. Consumers still need to pay to access any other parts of the Web through Starbucks’ partnership with T-Mobile.
This is just terrible writing. Access to the iTunes store is free? How is that newsworthy? There’s news to be had here, but spinning up the free angle is just ludicrous. Did the journalist just swallow the press release and not really think about what new service was? Need they also point out that Starbucks provides free parking, restrooms, and now oxygen?
Sign o’ the Tmies
October 10th, 2007
CBC News has a tool on their masthead to report a typo.
Some people like to report typos (I’m one of them; I also like to be notified of typos). But there’s also a comment here on ways to listen to customers; CBC perhaps noticed some patterns in type of feedback they were getting and decided to create a channel just for that type of input. As well, by offering that link they are encouraging people to participate in the site on a very simple level, as typo submitters.
The vibration of truth
December 2nd, 2006
The Secret World of Lonelygirl is a pretty interesting summary of much that happened with this YouTube phenom. But separate from that, a passage caught my interest.
When the show started in June with a two-minute YouTube posting by Bree — played by actress Jessica Rose — Flinders would rearrange his room after each shoot. He’d take down the pictures of Rose as a baby, stash the stuffed animals, and swap out the girly bedspread for his more masculine blue-and-white-striped blanket. Now, three months into the project and with hundreds of thousands of regular viewers, he doesn’t bother. It’s too much work, even though it has blown some great opportunities for him. Last week, he spotted his neighbors — two Playboy playmates — and invited them in. They glanced at his room, got suspicious, and quickly left.
That playmate bit…do you believe him? I don’t.
It reads strongly like bluster reported as fact.
I’ve done enough ethnographies over the years to know that often you can tell when someone is embellishing or making up a story. It’s fine that people do that; the goal as an ethnographer is try and filter for that; to try and understand why. But what about for a journalist? Do they have a sensitivity to veracity? For non-hard-news, do they have an ethical journalistic responsibility to question or seek corroboration? Or do they simply need to type into their story, presented as fact, whatever their subjects tell them?
How many people died?
September 14th, 2006
The reports (and slow-to-appear-details for those of us that read RSS headlines) of yesterday’s gunman-rampage in Montreal raised an interesting detail question: how do we consider the loss of life of the perpetrator of a crime?
When I read that some asshole goes charging into a school with a gun, I don’t care what happens to him (except that he is stopped). If he commits suicide or is killed by police, does he get included in the total of dead?
If a suicide bomber detonates an explosive belt in the middle of a crowded marketplace, do we count her as well?
Headlines tell us “XX dead in Baghdad suicide bomb” or “Shooting rampage leaves Y people dead.” Do you expect the total to include only victims?
I’m not suggesting what is right, only what we are conditioned to expect. Perhaps there are some journalistic standards for accuracy here. Perhaps they vary by region. The headlines from Montreal are emphasizing that two people are dead, but one of those is the shooter.
It’s not even a moral judgement of the value of life, but just a reaction to the story “Oh my God – what happened – how many people were killed?” that focuses strongly on the victims of the crime.
Just some thoughts on mulitiple perspectives buried within a story…
NPR : The Art of the Interview, ESPN-Style
August 29th, 2006
This NPR story looks at the “interview coach” at ESPN and their attempts to bring a high level of quality to their interviewing. Page links to the NPR program and an exemplary interview and critique.
Now, every single editorial employee at ESPN is expected to attend a three-day seminar, where they encounter a lanky, slightly awkward 58-year-old man with little flash. In his efforts to illustrate what he considers the “seven deadly sins of interviewing,” John Sawatsky methodically eviscerates the nation’s most prominent television journalists.
“I want to change the culture of the journalistic interview,” Sawatsky says. “We interview no better now than we did 30 years ago. In some ways, we interview worse.”
There’s a lot to be learned from journalists; not everything applies to other forms of interviewing (say, interviewing users) of course.
I haven’t listened to this yet; checking it out will be first up tomorrow.
Klosterman Rock City
July 31st, 2006
I’m psyched to see Chuck Klosterman (who I’ve gently raved about before) resurface (after SPIN) at Eqsuire, where he is writing of-the-moment (and sometimes controversial) stories about (pop) culture topics, such as The “Snakes on a Plane” Problem
I worked in newspapers for eight years, right when that industry was starting to disintegrate. As such, we spent a lot of time talking with focus groups, forever trying to figure out what readers wanted. And here is what they wanted: everything. They wanted shorter stories, but also longer stories. They wanted more international news, but also more local news. And more in-depth reporting. And more playful arts coverage. And less sports. And more sports. And maybe some sports on the front page.
When it comes to mass media, it’s useless to ask people what they want; nobody knows what they want until they have it. If studios start to view the blogosphere as some kind of massive focus group, two things will happen: The first is that the movies will become idiotic and impersonal, which is probably pre¬¨dictable. But the less predictable second result will be that many of those movies will still fail commercially, even if the studios’ research was perfect. If you asked a hundred million people exactly what they wanted from a movie, and you used that data to make exactly the film they claimed to desire, it might succeed. Or it might not. Making artistic decisions by consensus doesn\’t work any better than giving one person complete autonomy; both strategies work roughly half the time.
I don’t know that Klosterman is the next Gladwell; I hope he doesn’t get managed/edited into that role. He’s more about looking again at something we’ve all been looking at than in coming up with wild connections between things we didn’t know were related. And he’s (still) focused on telling stories, often about himself. The pop culture beat is an important one, and even though it shifts near-seamlessly into implications for marketing and business (umm, hello, this blog, case-in-point?), I hope Chuck can sit that part of it out and stick to what he’s done best (rather than entering the dark waters of populism that this piece focuses on).
You’ve Got The Teeth Of The Hydra Upon You
July 30th, 2006
An article on the recent Aryan Brotherhood convictions quotes Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School/former federal prosecutor.”But the truth is, this (gang) is like a hydra – you cut off a limb and it’s going to grow back,” she said. “These guys have been around a long time and they’re going to get new leaders.”
But the Hydra had many heads, not many limbs. It was difficult/impossible to kill because the heads would grow back. That really breaks her metaphor! I’m sure the journalist just went with the quote anyway, as did the editor. Too bad.
Senate panel says, ‘No way, dude’ to claim on ‘Surf City’ moniker
August 26th, 2005
In an article about a dispute between two cities, the SF Chronicle masquerades as The Onion
Campbell pointed out that neither Santa Cruz nor Huntington Beach qualifies to be Surf City, under the terms of the classic Jan and Dean song, as neither place has ‘two girls for every boy.”
‘I’ve done some research,” Campbell said. ‘Neither city has two girls for every boy, so neither should be Surf City.”