That Harbhajan Singh Interview on Cricinfo…

A Cricketing View has some harsh words for Nagraj Gollapudi’s interview with Harbhajan Singh, wherein Singh says, “[The Indian national cricketers] are not worried about their places, people go out to play for the team rather than playing for themselves.” For View, though, this calls out for further clarification:

By cherry picking the most outrageous (and absurd) quote from Harbhajan Singh and putting it in the title of the interview, Gollapudi guarantees himself lots of clicks, but he also guarantees two kinds of responses – those who believe that everyone is corrupt and there is no meritocracy anywhere, and likely to leave this essay thinking – see, some meritocracy, and some wonderful results! These are the people who think that the selectors are a rule are incompetent and dishonest. The other kind of response he guarantees is that of someone left deeply unsatisfied with a half-baked interview with India’s senior spinner. Someone who will read that headline, and immediately think to himself – Hmmm, but job security stems from success too!

A couple of quick points: first, writers rarely choose their headlines; that’s the copy or online editor’s job. Second, View should be more angry with Harbhajan’s inane quotes than Gollapudi’s writing. Sportspeople regularly give shitty interviews, filled with cliches and also-ran bromides about success, “giving 100%” and so on. Third, the reason journalists often write essays on interviews rather than offer transcripts is the format offers readers a quicker distillation of the salient points. Some interviews go on for over 30 minutes; including every word would sometimes be foolish.

Fourth — and most importantly — I don’t think Gollapudi “guaranteed” the results View offers, because I didn’t think of either of those two responses when I read that interview. I thought Harbhajan was referring to Greg Chappell’s tenure, a stormy time when players supposedly were unsure of their place or role in the national team as Chappell sought to shake things up and move people around. That’s all.

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7 thoughts on “That Harbhajan Singh Interview on Cricinfo…

  1. Peter Della Penna says:

    Solid points about the story behind how stories appear. Headlines often undermine a story or mislead readers and then the readers get angry at the writer, when often times the writer had nothing to do with it. While on my university newspaper staff, I had the misfortune on more than one occasion of having a mistake edited INTO a story I had written. I went berserk at the section editor who told me to forget about it and that it wasn’t on purpose. But it was my name that was attached to the story in the byline and not his. So some people out there who read the story might have thought I was a moron and I would have lost credibility with some readers because of it.

    Interviews, especially with athletes, are the most frustrating. They can be totally relaxed around you and crack jokes etc., but as soon as you turn on a camera or a microphone to start recording, their mood changes and they give 100% programmed answers.

  2. Kartikeya says:

    Thanks for the post. Surely, the reporter is more than a stenographer – and part of the reporters/interviewers art is to ask the right questions. Once Harbhajan Singh says something like “They are not worried about their places, people go out to play for the team rather than playing for themselves.”, how can you let it go without comment?

    As far as the title goes, Gollapudi is the author of the article, and it really doesn’t matter what the mechanics of picking the title are – its Gollapudi’s title for all intents and purposes.

    Harbhajan Singh is not responsible for the interview – Gollapudi is – he is the interviewer, and the author of the article.

    • duckingbeamers says:

      This is a bit silly, no? Takes two to tango, and two to interview. And, really, it’s not like Singh’s comment is that strange; we’ve heard it before from cricketers. It’s a sport cliche, which is probably why Gollapudi didn’t comment (though we don’t know if he did or not in the actual interview). I also think it’s interesting that you, on the one hand, want just interview transcripts, but then, on the other hand, write, “surely, the reporter is more than a stenographer.” You realize those two sentiments are incompatible, right?

  3. Kartikeya says:

    By stenographer, i mean someone who un-critically records what someone else is saying without being critical about it – especially when he has the opportunity to do so then and there. So, the interview transcript would record what Harbhajan said, and what follow up the interviewer posed, and what Harbhajan said to that follow up. The Q & A form is an altogether superior form of reporting an interview. It removes one level of mediation between the reader and the interviewee.

    For example, reading a transcript can tell a reader whether or not Harbhajan Singh thought the interviewer was asking silly questions (cliched questions if you will) – this sort of thing is obscured when Gollapudi cherry picks his interview notes.

    I take your point that there are issues about being nice to Harbhajan Singh (and making sure you get an interview next time), but isn’t that the essential tension in the interviewers job? Isn’t that why it is a job which requires skill?

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