Thursday, November 25, 2021

Getting dropped from a feature on cancel culture

A lesson on getting oneself dropped from a feature article about cancel culture at UBC in the student paper. A month ago I was asked to do an interview about cancel culture at UBC. You can read my side of that interview here:  Cancel Culture. My mistake was to assume reporters consider themselves on the record in the same way they put those they question on the record. How wrong I was!

"During interviews," I was told by the features editor, "the journalist is not on the record." I was (am) surprised by this assertion. I'm conceptually puzzled by the idea that the questions used to prompt my responses are off the record while my responses are on the record and the journalist takes carte blanche in how to treat my responses. 

In a subsequent email from the coordinating editor they doubled down with their idea of informed consent suggesting that the interview (they called it a conversation) required consent of both parties for both to be put on the record and since I was the only one who agreed to the interview, the reporter had not given consent to be on the record. As a social science researcher I am accustomed to a rather formal process of prior informed consent,  the ways that friend-like attributes infuse this kind of research, and the importance of one's focus of research being informed and engaged in granting consent through multiple stages of research and writing. Through that process I always assumed and expected that I, the question asker, was on the record and that was in part an act of reciprocity with those I interviewed. 

The editorial staff at the Ubyssey do not agree with the above. The coordinating editor informed me that "in the future, The Ubyssey and our reporters require being informed of your intent to publish interview transcripts and recordings before you agree to the interview."  To make things simple I replied that for any subsequent interview request I reserve the right to post interview transcripts (edited or raw) upon publication of their article. I suspect that will ensure I am removed from their list of potential interviewees for some time (or at least until a new group turns up). 

In my professional practice as an anthropologist I expect to be every bit on the record as those I interview, observe, and write about. If I can't put myself there, how can I morally expect those I write about to put themselves there?See:  Introduction to special issue on autoethnography.

Journalists aren't alone in being annoyed at having the microscope turned on themselves, many professional anthropologists become highly unsettled when they find themselves the object of study.

But if both professions are honest about our practice, and respectful enough to engage in reciprocal relations, we will not try to mask ourselves from interrogation, we will welcome it as radically authentic experience. It will shape our capacity for empathy and care.


Interviews with the Ubyssey currently available.

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