The Art of "Quotemanship" and "Misquotemanship"

Quoting people accurately is really hard — and you can quote me on that.

To Tape or Not to Tape? That Is the Question a Musician Asks


Musician Nthato Mokgata (who also goes by Spoek Mathambo) clearly laid out the often-unspoken unease that exists between interviewer and interviewee.The exchange between the singer and journalist Andrea Nagel is captured in the beginning of an article that appeared in the 13 April 2012 edition of The Times of South Africa. Mathambo asked that the interview be recorded; the interviewee apparently resisted the suggestion. Here’s how the exchange appeared in the paper:

Before we begin the interview he puts me in my place, insisting that I use a dictaphone.
“I’ve been misquoted by journalists so many times,” he says, exasperated by my insistence on taking notes.
“You’re probably misquoting me right now.”

Of course, in addition to buying ink by the barrel, journalist usually have the last word.
Nagel ended the piece with a bit of a dig at the singer and his concern about accurate quotations.

As I leave, Mathambo, who has loosened up since the start of our interview, offers to put my name on the guest list at his performance on Saturday night.
At least I think he invited me, but I wouldn’t want to misquote him.

I must say, I’d really like to know one thing. Despite apparently rejecting his request that she record the interview, did she plan on accepting the offer of a free pass and attend the concert?


  1. I don’t understand the problem. Taking notes is not mutually exclusive to recording an interview, especially if an interviewer requests it. It may even be good practice to record (if the interviewee lets you), write your article, then go back and listen to the interview again to check both your quotes and your article in general. Yes, it takes more time. Such is the cost of responsible journalism.

    • Right. I don’t understand why a reporter wouldn’t be willing to do both. I have told students to be prepared to do both. (After all, the recording could fail!)
      I recommend to people being interviewed that they pull out their own recording device, for accuracy’s sake.

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