Malcolm Gladwell’s guide to interviews
I am rarely nasty. If I write about you, I do not want you to ever regret having talked to me. In cases where I think someone will regret talking to me, I do not do the story or do not use the person’s interview or don’t use the parts they’ll regret having said. Part of that is my personality, partly it’s because there’s very little negative stuff you can put in a book or an article before you turn most of your audience away. Negative stuff is interesting the first time, but you’ll never re-read a negative article. You’ll re-read a positive one. Part of the reason that my books have had a long shelf life is that they’re optimistic, and optimism permits that kind of longevity.
But more importantly, as a journalist, if you interview someone your job is to select out what is relevant to the story you want to tell and to not use what is irrelevant to the story you want to tell. … That’s not false. It’s actually true. It’s what we do with our friends. It’s what we do with our parents. It’s what we do with everyone that we love. We edit our impressions of them. We’re blind to their faults in a kind of very beautiful way. And there’s no reason why journalists can’t do the same. I really object to this notion of journalism as this kind of, you know, if they said it, you print it. No. If they said it, you think long and hard about whether it’s necessary. And you think long and hard about the sense in which they were speaking. You think long and hard about whether if you asked them that question again whether they would answer the same way. And if you don’t think they’d answer it the same way a second time, you can’t use it. It’s not a game of gotcha.
Spotter: Jim Romonesko