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An Interview I Did Not Do
Nevertheless, in a way I did my job
Carlos Arturo Serrano Gomez (carturo222)     Print Article 
Published 2009-03-31 15:43 (KST)   
Last November I read a good news story. As is usually the case, someone somewhere had done something, and it was remarkable enough to invest ink and bytes on it. This time I was so impressed by the creativity and usefulness of the idea that I immediately wanted to meet the person behind it. Indeed, I wanted to tell everyone about it. I emailed the person in question, and requested permission to do an interview.

I thought it would be simple. I still think it should be. I want to know, I ask, I hear, now I know. I sent an email with the questions I felt were relevant, and waited. Of course, I had first done some background research on this person. It was a renowned name in very specific circles, and the work I had just read about was part of a broader career devoted to similar topics. It was someone worth knowing. However, people who are worth knowing don't tend to think it worth their time being known. They prefer to devote themselves to doing the very things they're worth being known for.

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Less than a week later I received a kind but hurried response, describing my email as a "very very long list of questions given all the other things I'm juggling at the moment." There was no implication that the interview had been rejected, only that it would take long to happen. I could live with that. I had no objection. I had no choice. I waited.

In the meantime, I wrote another article, helped edit a couple more, and from time to time wondered whether I had done something wrong. I know myself to be particularly clumsy with people, and in this case I couldn't stop fearing that I had not been polite enough, or had chosen the wrong wording, or had simply made the more basic mistake of unloading a massive pile of questions upon an innocent victim. In no scenario were my pretensions defensible. I was an amateur aping a serious interviewer.

Two months later, after I timidly wrote again, I received a second email asking for more time to answer. The delay was due to personal reasons that were perfectly understandable. Of course, I said. Take your time. Who was I to add any pressure?

That same question I kept asking myself. Who was I?

I waited for more than seemed advisable. I could live with that. The interview still appeared viable. The story was so good I could be put on hold for as long as necessary; I just wanted to make sure it was I who wrote it.

By this point you must have already realized I'm not going to specify what or who I intended to write about. I myself found it a difficult decision, but I had compelling reasons to tell this story without that core fact.

First, I don't want this article to pose as a substitute for the piece I didn't write. If I included the details here, I would be partially fulfilling the informative mission I wanted my article to serve, and I don't want this to be the one that does it. That story deserves better.

Second, this is not a piece about someone who didn't give appropriate answers; it's about someone who didn't ask appropriate questions, and that fact is independent of the topic being covered.

Third, I don't want to risk that person reading this and getting a worse opinion of me than it already is. If I mentioned that name here, it might leave the impression that I was complaining about how hard it was to get any questions answered, and that's not the case. I dare not smear that name, not even unintendedly. If you are reading this, I thank you for your time. I know you're busy. I know why you're busy. Considering the good you're doing, I thank you for being so busy.

The last email I received a month ago was a humbling blow. The answers were few, brief and precise. No words were wasted. Some of my questions had been left unanswered, and some of the answers were telling me things I already knew. The heading of the email hinted that more answers would follow, but the first assertion was to the effect that I had misunderstood the whole thing. It did not specify in what way, and did not attempt to correct me. It simply let me know that I didn't know the subject well enough to try to describe it to someone else.

I knew what that meant. I couldn't write that article.

I resisted the idea. I thought of writing back, explaining the angle I wanted to show the issue from, the benefits of a wider audience, insisting in juicier answers--but there was no way of doing it that didn't bring more embarrassment for myself. This time it did not matter that I was a half-decent reviewer, a good researcher, an impeccable proofreader. This time I was just a mediocre interviewer; there was no removing that first impression.

And I could not live with that.

From my end, I was done with that story. But it isn't done with me. As an aspiring journalist, I feel forced to examine what this apparently inconsequential failure says about the way I handle a story. It might be said that I'm making too much of a fuss over a meaningless inconvenience. But I intuit that a big part of being a successful journalist is being able to find meaning where there didn't seem to be any. If I at least manage to report this meaning to myself, I did my job.

©2009 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Carlos Arturo Serrano Gomez

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