If you ARE recorded, DO a recording

«I never said we should kill him.» has seven different meaning depending on the stressed word.

I was recently reminded of a golden rule — if you are recorded for an interview, record the interview yourself as well. Interviews are usually about hot-button topics. That’s where the audience is and outrage porn is a thing.

There was an interesting example recently in a so-called documentary about so-called anti-feminist women. So-called, because the woman doing the interviews dealt with the topic based on her own preconceived notions and emotional reactions. Strange that this is called a documentary. I get this approach if it is done in good faith with genuine curiosity and if they let people speak for themselves. Cassie Jayne’s «The Red Pill» was done from a personal perspective, but it led people speak for themselves, and the interviewee allowed her preconceptions to be challenged. But in that so-called documentary it stayed with preconceived notions, there was voice over narration claiming what the interviewee said in that moment, with the interviewer virtue signaling outrage. It did not help that she identified as a feminist, but never clearly defined the terms (anti-)feminism or where her view of feminism specifically clashes with the views of the interviewees. After all, there are waves with a lot of different directions and goals, and even within a wave there is no consistency. Taken together it was emotional reactions by an uninteresting woman with preconceived notions, shallow thoughts, and so much vagueness that there was no actual contribution.

Sidenote: Seriously, a lot of conflict and debate could be avoided if people would define their terms beforehand — clearly and precisely — and agree on a shared definition. And then work out where they actually agree and disagree — and why. A lot of time people think they talk about the same things when they talk about different things, or talk about the same things when they think they talk about different things.

There was one accidental contribution, however, the reinforcement of the golden rule to always record an interview when you are being recorded. One of the women who was misquoted — or rather, they claimed she said something she did not say — did play the whole recording in a YouTube video. Not sure why the interviewer thought it was a good idea to do an interview about a serious topic while walking, and without specific questions to help the interviewee to express her views more clearly (steelmanning). But the interviewer apparently wasn’t interested in clarity. Instead, she had an agenda. And when there is an agenda, there is always the risk of selective listening, of selective editing, of voice-over-this-is-what-I-wanted-to-hear summaries. After all, like (almost) everybody else, people are convinced they are on the side of good and have good intentions.

Sidenote: I really wish «good intentions» would be seen as what they are — a warning signal to be very very conscientious because your judgement, esp. the moral judgement, is strongly impaired. And when it comes to documentaries (or research) about hot-button topics, you need «adversarial collaboration» — people who disagree but still work together.

While probably only a few people did listen to her full recording, at least it is there. And in cases of libel, it can at least be a basis for legal action.

So, always record the interview yourself, on video if possible. Almost any smartphone can do so. Just take care of artificial recording limits. In some countries, it cuts after 30 minutes and you have to start a new recording. Do so openly — if the interviewer knows you have a recording, there might be fewer «misquotations». If the interviewer is not comfortable with you recording it as well, that should be a huge red flag and a reason to terminate the interview. It just screams bad faith.

I also wonder whether «Good Documentary Standards» would be useful, with having the full recordings available online as supplemental materials. Documentaries have to cut interviews down, there is no way around it, but at least they can provide the full interview in context online. And if someone is really interested in the topic, they can dive deeper.