Keeping interviewees on speed dial

Does the practice of recycling interviewees affect the credibility of news?

The job of a journalist is a tough one. Often times, journalists serve as the only link between new information and the masses.

Recently, Singaporeans noticed that a veteran journalist from The Straits Times had been quoting the same people in several reports.

The discovery did not sit well with them. Some raised concerns about fake news and credibility of the main media.

What's going on?

On Jul 27, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan expressed his displeasure about recent media reports about the train system's re-signalling projects, which he claimed "magnified the problem unfairly".  

His comments were picked up by The Straits Times' senior transport correspondent, Christopher Tan, who wrote an article in response. The article featured quotes by The Straits Times editor Warren Fernandez and 36-year-old Ashley Wu, a regularly affected train commuter.

However, on Jul 28, alert netizens pointed out that Ashley Wu had been quoted at least eight times in various articles regarding the MRT.

There were also some inconsistencies in the reporting of Ashley Wu's age.

Further digging by netizens revealed other commonly quoted sources by the same journalist.

Former cabby Alan Tang was repeatedly interviewed for his opinion on taxi-related articles, while general manager of Kah Motors, Nicholas Wong, was interviewed for COE-related articles.

Does this practice affect the credibility of the news?

The practice of repeating interviewees has left some youths feeling uncertain about the credibility of news.

Journalist intern Gabriel Choo, 19, felt that repeating contacts makes the story, writer and organisation less reliable and trustworthy.

"As a journalist, I would never resort to such easy way out tactics. In worst case scenarios, I'll resort to interviewing friends, but never the same friend twice," said Gabriel.

Some netizens have lost faith, whilst others remain unfazed.

Similarly, retail staff Trisha Tay found the factual inconsistencies, such as the reporting of Ashley Wu's age, worrying.

The 24-year-old, who reads the news regularly, said: "It is bad enough to keep going back to the same interviewee, but what's worse is that after so many quotes, they still can't get her age right.

"It makes me wonder if this person is made up and what other facts may be wrongly written," added Trisha.

On the other hand, some felt that having a handful of repeated interviewees in news features may not be a cause for alarm.

Student Lau Jia Hui, felt that a publication's credibility should not be judged based on its practice of featuring the same contacts repeatedly.

The 18-year-old said: "What's more important is whether the key facts of the story are accurate and reliable, which The Straits Times is known to be. While it is a bit weird to re-interview a specific MRT commuter, my impression of them remains strong."

Will the opinions be skewed if the same interviewees are quoted repeatedly?

Business student Maria Carla Panganiban, 19, felt there are certain instances where re-using interviewees is acceptable.

Maria said: "It's only okay if they are industry experts, since their expertise adds credibility to the story."

"But if you're recycling interviewees who can easily be found elsewhere, such as the thousands of MRT commuters or taxi drivers, you need to put in more effort," she added.

What's your take?

  1. How do you ensure the news you are reading is credible? What type of news outlets do you trust?

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