Joho the Blog » Man in the street = Editor in the studio

Man in the street = Editor in the studio

Maybe I’ve been unlucky, or maybe I’m just more sensitive these days, but I think I’m hearing more NPR interviews with ordinary joes and janes. For example, they just ran interviews about the election with seniors. We learned that there’s this one old guy who likes Ryan because he has good values and likes America. We learned that there’s another old lady who is worried that the Republicans will weaken Medicare. Then, we learned that there are other old people with other opinions.

That is, we learned nothing. There was no statistical significance to the interviews. There were no particular insights. The most significant lesson we could learn is about what the editors at NPR think are interesting, balanced sound bites.

There are three levels of badness of “man on the street” interviews. At level one, they are journalism at its laziest. At level two, they’re ways to smuggle in opinions that the journalists are afraid to express. At level three, they’re conscious attempts to manipulate opinion through selective editing.

NPR’s interviews are “balanced,” and thus are probably only Level 1 offenders. Maybe Level 2. I wish all forms of journalism became Level 0 offenders.

3 Responses to “Man in the street = Editor in the studio”

  1. This nasty habit also permeates local TV news. I have never understood why the opinions of three random people on the street should be considered news. Your article explains it perfectly.

    A related TV news peeve – why is it necessary to show us a reporter standing outside the White House in order to tell us what’s happening inside? Can he hear from out there? Maybe it’s just a DC thing.

  2. It must be noted that these Person on the Street fluff pieces often provide “balance” by including opinions based on total misinformation (a solid level 3 offense). The mainstream press is meek enough in challenging obvious lies because the lies provide “the other side” to an argument; when uttered by the Person on the Street, they a total pass (except when they’re part of a late-night-tv comedy bit and are accompanied by audience laughter – Leno was doing it even before Stewart).

  3. Is it that these interviews are used at all or that they are used exclusively?
    I’m also suspicious of stories that the reporter collects off-camera/off-mike and delivers as fact, particularly when talking about public opinion. Polling data is becoming increasingly unreliable because a) people are lying to pollsters and b) polls often don’t reach people with mobile phones or unpublished numbers.
    It’s also important to remember that most of us are dull, unenlightened, and inarticulate. We don’t consider issues on a high plane. We act and vote based on visceral responses. Sen. Roman Hruska, much mocked for his comments about mediocrity (http://is.gd/6PMUju) was more right than we knew or wanted to believe.

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