Treat interviewees as people too

27Apr08

One of my biggest peeve of journalists is them failing to recognise their interviewees as people too. So often, they get lost in their need to get a story, a quick quote or just some information that they fail to realise that they make the interviewee feel like he or she was simply being used to help you write your story.

Thus, I was very impressed to hear Abdul Nizam Hamid describe how he conducted himself in the making of “Keronchong for Pak Bakar”, a documentary about the camera man who worked for the legendary director P. Ramlee, at the recently concluded Singapore International Film Festival.

For one, when the director met Pak Bakar, he actually spent time to build a relationship as a friend with him first. And it was only about two years on, did he broach the idea of documenting Pak Bakar. Even at that point, Nizam and Pak Bakar had a lingering fear of how making such a documentary could alter the dynamics of their relationship from friends to just that of an interviewer-interviewee. This uneasiness is something I can empathise with and I wish more people and journalists would pay attention to.

Of course, from a journalist’s point of view, a major concern would be looming deadlines. How could one spend years and even days to get to know their interviewee inside out? Another issue would be conflict of interests, would getting too close affect the objectivity of the reporting? This obsession with objectivity also contributes to the creation of this “distance” that often makes the treatment given by journalists seem “clinical”. They are caught in the bind of the need to get information from a source/contact they cannot get very close to

And to a certain extent, these factors did affect the quality of the documentary as it was far from impressive, but it is a work-in-progress, and for me, it is important that we give him credit for the process.

Also, Nizam is not a journalist so maybe it was a tad unreal to make comparisons in this manner. What I am alluding to is this idea of respect for each other as a fellow person. A simple gesture of giving back something to those you have taken, or respecting the wishes of the other, even if it means your story is going to suffer, these are some things I think are lacking in our daily lives today.

Just today, I found out my contact number was given out to a stranger asking for a favour without my friend even having the courtesy of letting me know or decide if I should help.

At the end of the day, I feel people are not going to remember you so much for what you did, but really who you are and what you stood for.

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