The stand-up reporter and the question Siri won’t answer

March 16 update: Retraction There were fabrications in Mike Daisey’s story about Apple’s Chinese factory workers. See Ira Glass’s retraction: This American Life Retracts Story; Says It Can’t Vouch for the Truth of Mike Daisey’s Monologue about Apple in China

“We didn’t think that he was lying to us and to audiences about the details of his story. That was a mistake.” — Ira Glass

Marketplace program caught the error, interviewed original interpreter.

“Daisey lied to me and to This American Life producer Brian Reed during the fact checking we did on the story, before it was broadcast. That doesn’t excuse the fact that we never should’ve put this on the air. — Ira Glass

Washington Post blog about the story

Bob Garfield on feeling betrayed.

I’m keeping my original post about the program below. The issues of “storytelling style,” making emotional connections, and journalism as truth-telling are still the topic. Making a story more entertaining does not have to include fabricating details.

Call it “art” or “sensationalism,” or “yellow journalism” or “laziness.” It’s a shame Daisey did it that way and gave the story to a program known for telling the truth in a personal, affective way.

In his interview with Glass and in his own blog, Daisey says he regrets using his monologue on Glass’s This American Life: “What I do is not journalism. The tools of the theater are not the same as the tools of journalism. For this reason, I regret that I allowed THIS AMERICAN LIFE to air an excerpt from my monologue.”

I regret that in showing what a good storyteller he is, Deasey couldn’t show us better skill as an honest reporter… or, like Hunter Thompson, show us enough clues to make us respond, “This is too wild to be 100% true, but there’s some truth in here, maybe even big-T Truth and, what the hell, it’s a great ride.”

Jan 26 post

This American Life host Ira Glass starts this program “interviewing” the Siri talking interface of the latest iPhone, cleverly getting it to refuse to answer one question: Where was the phone manufactured?

Of course the phone is stamped with a place of assembly, major manufacturers have been well-known, and Apple earlier this month disclosed a list of its suppliers.

But Glass has another point to make. His little dialogue with the iPhone introduces a 40-minute audio performance, in front of a live audience, by Mike Daisey, titled “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory.” It’s a story I’d like my news writing students to hear, although we probably won’t get around to discussing it for a week or two.

Daisey’s amazing narrative tells how he visited a Chinese manufacturing city that “looks like ‘Blade Runner’ threw up on itself,” and getting Apple factory workers to talk to him about their work and their lives. We usually tell beginning journalism students to “stay out of the story” and write in the third-person. That’s the standard approach in print and Web narratives, and in a lot of broadcast reporting. It separates “opinion” and “interpretation” from “the facts.” But here — as in some feature stories and op-edit columns — a reporter’s experience in getting the story is part of the story.

The NPR site lets you stream Daisey’s piece of stand-up news storytelling — or should we call it “performance journalism”? — plus a 20-minute fact-checking follow-up by This American Life, with links to research reports on Apple manufacturing.

You also can buy the full hour as a single download from, ironically, iTunes.


Jan. 13 blog  after Apple’s release of the supplier list.

Jan. 25 New York Times story, In China, Human Costs Are Built Into an iPad

Mike Daisey’s blog:

In its first week the episode was the most downloaded in THIS AMERICAN LIFE’s history. The internet exploded, and the story went everywhere—I received over a thousand emails in just a few days; the response was overwhelming.

mild-mannered reporter who fell deeper into computers and the Web during three trips through graduate school in the 1980s and 1990s, then began teaching journalism, media studies and Web production, most recently as a faculty member at Radford University.

Posted in Digital Culture, Journalism, podcast, radio, storytelling

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