Much Ado

Was the Morning News wrong to send an intern on a jailhouse interview? No.

Now that doesn't mean the News is blameless in this. Should her editor in Dallas have made it clear that she didn't take notes in the story? I think so. Should he have allowed her to quote only a few memorable words (for example, when Dotson said, "If someone points a gun at you and shoots and it doesn't go off, what would you do?") and paraphrase the rest? Yes. But no one is disputing the meat of the story, except Dotson's father, who admits he didn't even know that an interview with his son had been conducted because he doesn't watch the news.

"Would we all have felt better had notes been taken?" Wilk asks rhetorically. "Sure. I can also understand her instincts in doing it the way she did it. The important thing here is that Shani got one heck of an interview, and the veracity of it has not been challenged...She's an exceptionally poised young woman, and she did good work."

So I give her a pass on this. To be sure, I called my former journalism professor from college, who happens to be Dallas Observer columnist Jim Schutze. He told me a story about how, many years ago, he talked for two hours with the guy whose brother mixed the Jonestown Kool-Aid, then reconstructed quotes in his car because he knew he would have lost the interview had he taken out a notebook. "Our job is to get people to talk to us, and sometimes that's not always easy to do," he said. At least, I think that's what he said. I didn't take notes.

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