Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Being Quoted is Not Always Great

I did an interview on water issues for the "Kansas Farmer" which appeared on page 12 of the April, 2009 edition (see article). The piece began saying that I said: "..the only solution to continued depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer is a new industry that uses less water and produces more economic value than today's irrigated production agriculture."

While I actually said this (or something very close to it), the interviewer seemed to completely forget about all the qualifying comments made just prior, which included something along the lines of: traditional responses have been to reduce water use at the expense of the economy or to boost the economy at the expense of the resource. The best solution is to address both the resource and economic issues simultaneously. With this understood, the opening quote above makes more sense and would be less likely to be taken literally. Finding a new industry is NOT the only solution to groundwater depletion in the Ogallala.

I also said irrigation system efficiency improvements wouldn't necessarily reduce crop water use, and gave him 4 reasons why it might not. My next quote in the article had me proclaiming my doubts as to irrigation efficiency saving water, based only (and solely) on one of the 4 stated reasons. And to boot, the interviewer had another person responding to my proclamation which was misunderstood and clipped. It didn't help matters much when the other person's refuting of my statement was not even correct.

When a 75 minute interview results in 3 quick quotes and 3 key points, I don't see how it can be really accurate - and this one missed several key points as well. While they have a job to do, my experience has been that much of the mis-information out there on water issues is because of the press that tries to get the word out.


  1. Wayne,

    Interesting Blog. Bookmarked now. Your comments about being interviewed by someone in the media and having them take 'some' of your comments (without regard to content or intent) and place a spin on it really hits the mark.

    I heard the same from a California water district manager recently. He told me a tale about an interview he had given to someone from the High Country News. He had spent a good deal of time showing the guy around his district and gave him a detailed rundown on the problems that he has to deal with, etc. When the article came to print, the focus of the article had changed and the manager was not pleased with what he read.

    I asked him about any future interviews and he said that from now on - no more interviews. He had learned a lesson.

    This is a real shame as there are many misconceptions about how 'things are run' in the water world. Most the working people I have had dealings with (in irrigation districts and elsewhere) are honest and descent folks.

    Stories about water management aren't sexy if we talk about O&M practices or Tech issues. However, make great copy if there is a 'China Town' or global warming slant to it.

    Just my two cents worth.


  2. Delbert: Thanks for your comments. I am these days fairly philosophical about interviews. I think they are a necessary risk, and as such, I rarely decline one, but I always hold my breath. An alienated press person can be a real problem.

    While I try to be friendly and completely open, I also try to ask them about their story direction and make a request to see a draft of the story before publication to insure its best accuracy. Some send along the draft and some don't or refuse.

    The press really does have a role to play, but how I wish more of them would spend a little time and effort on their work rather than just banging out a story to move on to the next.

    There is also the occasional reporter that exceeds my expectations and does an outstanding job. Wish there were more of these. Thanks for your compliment and thanks again for your comments.