Gouri Dange: Dealing with journos hungry for quotes

09 Nov,2011

Do you really want to be that rent-a-quote person?

They’re polite, of course. And young. And completely unaware of how tiresome they can be. The phone call goes something like this: “Hello, I’m writing a story on thisthatandtheother, and I was hoping to talk about it to you.”

At first, in the early years, you feel quite pleased to be called up in this way. You drop what you are doing, and whisper urgently to anyone who is sitting around you, “It’s The Press, they want My Opinion”.  People around you immediately go dead silent in deference to this Moment – it’s almost as important as if you were invited to address the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort on Republic Day. [The woman who works in my house says that Republic Day is when there is good circus to watch on TV (the parade) and Independence Day is when all phaltus go on doing bud-bud on TV, and Budget Day is when some ‘chassmister’ (erudite looking person in glasses) gives you the bad news about fuel and vegetable prices so that your idle boozard husband can tell you that you need to pick up a few more dirty-dishes-doing jobs to stay ahead of prices.] But I digress.

So, in the early years of being contacted by journos to give them ‘expert quotes’, you are inordinately happy to oblige. You proceed to hold forth on your subject, while the journo at the other end furiously scribbles or keys in as you speak. The rude shock comes a few days later when you ring up 60 friends and tell them that you are being Quoted, and not to miss reading the relevant article that day. You have made these calls before you have opened the paper and actually read your quote. Three things can now happen. A) The journo who you waxed eloquent to for 20 minutes has simply not used your quote – either she didn’t understand a word of what you spoke or there was no space for your quote. B) Worse, she may have misquoted you comprehensively, where you end up sounding like an envious whiney loser who hates everyone else in your field; as a bonus, she has got your name wrong. C) All your pearls of wisdom have been used, in fact what you spoke constitutes the whole article, but you have been given no credit. Your name is not mentioned at all. It is as if this article was born via immaculate conception.

A few such incidents, and you get older and wiser pretty quickly. You’re at the next level of the rent-a-quote market. Someone calls, and you first get a good sense of what this journo is going to be saying in his/her article first. Then you carefully choose your words, keeping it all very very simple, and hope for the best. You are also now smart enough to request:  can you please call and read out or email me what you’re quoting from this conversation? This way you can clarify, I said ‘intuition’ not ‘tuition’ and other such things. But there’s nothing much you can do about being described by the journo as a music listener who “bubbles over with names, when asked about her favourite musicians”. Or being described randomly as ‘unputdownable’ or ‘peripatetic’ or ‘intrepid’ – all favourite journo adjectives. Makes you sound like some wandering pest.

Some journos send you a list of questions to reply to by email. This may sound better than having to gabble on the phone and then get thoroughly misquoted. However, the level of detail required from you in replying to these questions would surely be the equivalent of writing the entire story yourself, and also perhaps could be that PhD proposal that you’ve been postponing writing.  Too much hard work.

Some of them will pop up on Gchat and say the following: Hiiii….I need quotes from celebs, psychologists and young people on ‘Long distance marriages: Is it workable or a recipe for disaster?’ …need the quotes along with high res images in 3 hours. Can u help pllleeez??”  Your only option is to quietly log out.

Here’s another double-edged thing about being quoted in newspapers and magazines, though. Whatever garbled version of your quote appears, the lay reader immediately takes you very seriously and your stock rises dizzily in your field. However, colleagues tend to go nudge-nudge and deduce that you are rather idle and/or have friends in the Press and are a bit of a Quote Bank. So it’s a bit of a toss-up – to be quoted or not to be quoted?

If you choose not to be, then here are some ways to duck out. Tell the journo to call you four hours later. They’re usually plugging in quotes at the last minute, and it is likely that they don’t have four hours, plus you sound busy and important. So you’re safe. Or come up with something exotic. Huff and puff on the phone and say you’re climbing Kilimanjaro. The poor dears will hurriedly get off the phone so as not to cost you roaming charges.

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7 responses to “Gouri Dange: Dealing with journos hungry for quotes”

  1. Cull Da Sack says:

    As an recent repeat visitor to India, I imagine this as a symptom of a crazy rate of growth of urban India. Mahaan Bhaarat has no patience to grow seasoned, mature, well-read reporters who can rely on their bank of knowledge/wisdom/judgment, and instead must make deadlines to get the column printed, however roughshod. In this scenario, a domain expert has to choose between remaining mum even if she/he has something worthwhile to contribute, and being mis-quoted by a pipsqueak. I don’t envy you your position, Gouri!

  2. Deccanhp says:

    Best of all is the unasked for “quote”.The ones which are just lifted off your articles,and reproduced sans quote marks and sans attribution.In our day they were called plagiarists.

  3. Lubna says:


    Based on this post and the experience you shared, I need some quotes please…as I am doing a story on how people run away from quotes. It would be so helpful to many others. These days, ‘how to’ articles are very popular. At least my editor loves them.

    1) So which is your favorite excuse? Huffing and puffing while climbing Kilimanjaro? Or any other?

    2) Can you narrate the funniest incident of a misquote?

    3) Has someone else’s wise words being attributed to you by mistake?

    4) After how many years did you reach the next levels of the ‘rent a quote’ market?

    5) How many more levels are ahead of you?

    6) How are you training to reach the next level.

    if you could reply to the above in the next one hour, your answers would be appreciated.


  4. Akash Raha says:

    Sigh! I know now, how people feel when I call them.

  5. Sue says:

    I don’t like Googling my name because some similar misquotes are out there popping up all over the place. They still make me shudder.

    Did you ever get called for a phone interview in which you were not allowed to speak because the interviewer was in a bad mood from the previous interview? I did!

    • gouri says:

      hahaha – yes! or bizarre titling of something that you have written, out there in net-land, making you sound daft and gushy. as for interviewer not letting you speak, that’s a new one! outside of Indian TV anchor behaviour, I mean.