What Do Those Experts on the Street Think?
March 26, 2008 2:35 PM   Subscribe

Are those "person on the street" quotes in magazines ever real?

One of my fiance's guilty pleasures is reading mags like Glamour and Cosmo. Lacking any other reading material one day whilst taking some toilet time, I thumbed through one. Throughout the mag there are smatterings of small thumbnails depicting a smiling person, identified by their first name and age, accompanied by their take on whatever issue the article is addressing. Are these ever real? Does anyone here have evidence that these mini-interviews actually take place in the real world?

If these are actual quotes attributable to the actual person depicted, has there ever been any reported backlash where someone got in trouble for making an offhand comment to some intern with a camera and a notepad? What kind of policies are in place?
posted by krippledkonscious to Media & Arts (28 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I have always thought that they were statements made by friends of the writers. The writer needs a quote on whether penis size really matters, they call one of their friends from college.
posted by jayder at 2:43 PM on March 26, 2008

They may be interns or friends of the writers, but it's usually a pretty big scandal when a writer fabricates sources for a non-fiction piece.
posted by Dec One at 2:49 PM on March 26, 2008

Best answer: They aren't always faked, but they are often the same person....

"[Greg Packer] has been quoted in more than 100 articles and television broadcasts as a member of the public (that is, a "man on the street" rather than a newsmaker or expert). According to the Nexis database from 1994 through 2004, Packer has been quoted or photographed at least 16 separate times by the Associated Press, 14 times by Newsday, 13 times by the New York Daily News, and 12 times by the New York Post.

His strategy is to appear at a likely news event and offer short statements to reporters. Although he always gives his real name he has admitted to making things up to get into the paper."

Wikipedia - Greg Packer
posted by takeyourmedicine at 2:53 PM on March 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

"Long Island Everyman Masters the Sound Bite"

Interview in NYT.
posted by takeyourmedicine at 2:55 PM on March 26, 2008

When we did a sound-bite feature (local newspaper) a journalist and a photographer really did go out on the streets so some of them are real.
posted by missmagenta at 2:55 PM on March 26, 2008

I was a man-on-the street once. The (mis)quote attributed to me was entirely fabricated.
posted by stubby phillips at 2:59 PM on March 26, 2008

I was quoted (along with my photograph) in one of the Metro newspaper's "(wo)man-in-the-street" type things. They even got my quote right.
posted by nursegracer at 3:02 PM on March 26, 2008

FWIW, I've known folks who've been stopped and asked their opinion on topics and subsequently had their name/face in an article with said opinion, so I can say that these "average joe" sound bites are true in at least some cases - but on the other hand, the cases I'm referring to have all been for local newspapers (or in one case, a college paper), so I can't vouch for anything more "big-time" than that ...
posted by zeph at 3:03 PM on March 26, 2008

Best answer: I work for a city daily newspaper, and I've gone out to get man-on-the-street quotes many times.

However, though I don't harbor any delusions of grandeur about the newspapering profession, I believe trashy magazines like Cosmo are held to an even lower standard. In fact, it would not surprise me to learn that everyone quoted in in Cosmo, from doctors and "sexperts" who opine on How to Please Your Man to the idiots who tell their Most Embarrassing Period Stories Ever! exist only in the minds of the "writers" tapped to craft these pieces.

Just like celebrity magazines get quotes from press kits and publicists, rather than the celebrities themselves.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 3:03 PM on March 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Doesn't quite fit, but Stubby Phillips reminded me of this. I know that when I have done (longer) interviews, there's often this period at the end, after all the 5-W stuff's been done and the reporter has basically done their job and should leave, when they look at their list and start fishing for something sexy-sounding to help make the story more interesting. The conversation has happened a few times, and after a 30 minute interview about topic (x), it usually veers like this:
Reporter: Great, that's pretty much all I need. Um... say, could you give me a few thoughts on (y, tangentially related thing)?

Me [thrown off by topic change]: Sure... [pontificates]...

Reporter: Okay, and how about (z, barely related other thing)?

Me [catching on to random-questions game]: "Well I think that's [holds forth, stumbles into a clever comparison by accident]."

Reporter: Oooh that's good... wait a second.." [scribbles furiously, repeats bon mots out loud]

Me: "Yeah, close enough... well not quite flaccid... maybe deflated?

Reporter: Okay [crosses out word, changes notes]. Well, thanks for all your time!
Next day, the story runs with throwaway quote as main focus of interview. Oh, and they use the "flaccid" version... and usually punch it up even further before it hits print. Sometimes the meaning is lost.

And... finally linking back into your question... I have seen these quotes that were half-mine get reused out-of-context in other news/magazine stories months later as 'supporting opinions' or such to gird an argument someone else is making. It's a bit scary ("Hey I wasn't talking about lubricating BABIES when I said that!") but so far I've never noticed it stretched so far I that was offended.

I notice that among some man-in-streets there's always a couple of "random" people that seem contrived like "Ben Zander, conductor of our city's symphony" or "Steve Irwin, general undersecretary of sewer security" who provide comments on, say, football... which leads me to suspect at least some of the man-in-streets are like that, and they come from a tank of leftovers.
posted by rokusan at 3:07 PM on March 26, 2008

Best answer: I write for papers and mags and they're real, if edited for length and clarity. I'd go one further than M.C. Lo-Carb! and say that Cosmo's are probably real too. There are
posted by rhymer at 3:11 PM on March 26, 2008

oops...after all, plenty of idiots in the street.
posted by rhymer at 3:12 PM on March 26, 2008

I once worked with an aspiring actor who was always trying to get discovered by doing lots of packers for the local tv news. He once dragged me along as filler, and got so peeved when they used my quotes instead of his.
posted by nomisxid at 3:18 PM on March 26, 2008

While I can't speak to magazines in particular, my girlfriend has appeared as a person-on-the-street in one of those free-on-the-subway papers, which I can only assume have relatively low editorial standards.
posted by ssg at 3:20 PM on March 26, 2008

I've been a journalist and also been the man-on-the-street person who was quoted. If you have a relationship with the writer, your quote is far more likely to be accurate and you might even get to see it before it goes to print.

Whenever we get misquotes in articles, often, the misquoted person emails us and we will make a correction or retraction within the hour if possible (most of my work is in online publishing). For this reason, I always stress to other writers the importance of recording statements rather than writing them down. It's not worth it to get into legal issues over a few words out of context.

Unfortunately, I cannot speak to the scrupulousness of others.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 3:43 PM on March 26, 2008

any man on the street i've ever interviewed has been just that - a man, or woman, randomly encountered on the street

that being said, some people just do'nt want to do this, some don't mind, and others seek out these opportunities. I think that means that most of the people you see in these are the sort of people that are open to speaking publicly like this. how this might sway the answers of course depends on the issue, but sway it does
posted by Salvatorparadise at 3:46 PM on March 26, 2008

We rarely do man-on-the-street stuff at the magazine where I work, but my college newspaper had a regular column called "Word on the Street" where the reporters did in fact go out and find real students to ask about a particular topic. That's why most of the quotes were usually so lame...
posted by limeonaire at 4:05 PM on March 26, 2008

Best answer: As far as I know, stuff where it's been in a newspaper, with a first and last name, location, job, etc., odds are that's real. (I got stuck doing man-on-the-street too.)

Cosmo or whatever femmemag that just puts a name and age and some strange quote, however, I have always suspected was made up. It's not like you can track THOSE people down.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:13 PM on March 26, 2008

At the BBC, it's pretty common practice to do person on the street (vox pops) at the nearest coffee shop or pub to the studio, it seems like the same thing at most places.
posted by parmanparman at 5:29 PM on March 26, 2008

I've contributed to one of those via my wife's old flatmate - he's a journalist and wanted a nice quote and picture to finish off an article after getting a few from random people, and it was easy to ask me (the evening he got home and I happened to be there too - this was before my wife and I were married). Not a fake as such, since I gave a genuine reaction to the question he asked and it was quoted word for word, but also not quite "random person in the street".
posted by greycap at 5:34 PM on March 26, 2008

Best answer: Lucky, at least, has definitely been documented as making stuff up. But that's what thinly disguised product shiling is all about.
posted by casarkos at 5:58 PM on March 26, 2008

I got stopped in the streets of Boston for an article, although it was for a newspaper, not a magazine.
posted by thebrokenmuse at 6:10 PM on March 26, 2008

I would expect a majority of these are real "people on the street"
if a college newspaper (read: the one I work for) has the standards to insist on sending someone out every day to get some answers and pictures to their "Question of the Day" (read: me), i would imagine a national publication would too.
however, when in a hurry or if it's too late when I get the assignment to actually just go outside and get them, i have been known to call up friends and ask them in a pinch.
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 6:16 PM on March 26, 2008

Best answer: I used to do this relatively frequently for an Irish newspaper - it's the job given to the most junior reporters. I know the only thing that stopped some other reporters who did it from just going to an out-of-the-way pub and passing the time making up quotes and drinking was that a picture was also required, and therefore a photographer was also dispatched. (I myself, of course, operated to the highest standards of the profession, and never even considered just making things up.)

I suspect that a reasonable rule of thumb would be that if there is a picture there, it's probably real - would be very easy to be caught out using a stock photo, or re-using a photo, and end up looking dumb when your competitors point it out.

Incidentally, I found people in general were reluctant to talk, but _incredibly_ reluctant to have their picture taken.
posted by StephenF at 6:20 PM on March 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

At my paper, we call it Triple A: Ask Any Asshole.
posted by CunningLinguist at 6:53 PM on March 26, 2008

They aren't made up in newspapers. I second StephenF's opinion - this is a task reporters hate doing and photogs hate accompanying reporters for. In my reporting jobs I usually just grabbed the $600 digital and went out and shot the mugshots myself.

The hardest part about the person-on-the-street assignment is starting the conversation. (Though it's not as hard as knocking on random people's doors ... man that took some getting used to.) Once I started the conversation, it was super easy. People liked sharing their opinions and the assignments were fairly relevant. However, people _hate_ having their mugs taken for the quotes and it often took a fair amount of convincing to get their picture with the quotes.
posted by Happydaz at 10:06 PM on March 26, 2008

Sure, sometimes they're real.
But the ones in The Onion are better than real.
posted by spasm at 1:04 AM on March 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Most intriguing. Also, the number of professional writers here is surprising... or actually, it's the other thing... "expected." Heh.

Thanks for all the answers from both sides of the fence. I'm glad to see that in regard to newspapers, the quotes seem legit enough, even if the context that the quote was originally given can sometimes be stretched. No outright Scott Templeton-ing going on with sourcing, which makes me nod my head in solemn approval.

That link to "Glossed Over," which seems to be a watch-dog-type blog about the kinds of magazines I originally had in mind, was especially interesting. While my pride prohibits me from grokking the site too deeply (for fear of someone observing it over my shoulder - damn! this manly pride), it's good to know that there are people who dissect such things in the same way that so many issues are bean-plated hereabout.

I'm going to try and Packer myself to a journalist friend of mine now, which should be a very meta way of tying this whole thing up.
posted by krippledkonscious at 4:59 PM on March 27, 2008

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