An interview with Herman Fording, former journalist for the Dissociated Press.
Featured in Superstar Journalist Illustrated.
Reprinted without permission.
Herman Fording is a legend in the journalism community, famous for delivering the goods on some of the most unusual and confusing stories of the last twenty years. When the World Monetary Tracking Computer Network crashed, Fording was there. When Jane Fonda put her hat in the ring for the â€˜88 presidential election, Fording was there. When the last known strain of so-called â€˜buffalo-pocksâ€™ bacteria disappeared from Los Alamos and the first new outbreak in a century was recorded, Fording was there.
Now Fording is here with me, in a small greasy diner that gives the every appearance of being constructed exclusively for furtive exchanges of spies, reporters, and cholesterol salesmen. In this most appropriate setting we begin our interview.
Fording deep undercover with 80â€™s heavy metal / motocross group, Berms and Perms, days before their now infamous â€˜Eat my Dustâ€™ world tour.
SJI: You describe yourself as an instigative journalist. What exactly does that mean?
HF: Iâ€™m glad you asked, people are always mistaking me for an investigative journalist which is totally inaccurate, and totally annoying. What I do is completely different.
“To do my job properly, I have to get at the news while itâ€™s still steaming, and you just canâ€™t do that by waiting for stories to drop.”
SJI: How is it different?
HF: I donâ€™t understand what your getting at.
SJI: Could you expand a little? Maybe tell us what instigative journalism is?
HF: Well, itâ€™s what I do. Itâ€™s what I live for. Itâ€™s me. If Iâ€™m not instigating, Iâ€™m journalizing. If Iâ€™m not journalizing, Iâ€™m unconscious. Thatâ€™s my life.
SJI: Noted news authority, Bertauld Krautman has defined instigative journalism as â€œthe sage and highly pragmatic philosophy of progressive news organizations which acknowledges the fact that in order to maintain news circulation, something reportable has to happen, and further declares that it is in the best interest of reporters for that something to happen before five oâ€™clock.â€ Do you feel that describes you?
HF: Yes, definitely. Traditional journalism is the only business that just waits for business to happen. Progressive reporters like myself take cues from the other major industries, weâ€™re proactive. I go out and shake the newsmakers until they spit up news, and then, with unflinching commitment, I funnel that still warm news straight to the viewers, consumers, and news junkies. To do my job properly, I have to get at the news while itâ€™s still steaming, and you just canâ€™t do that by waiting for stories to drop.
SJI: What about editors? Doesnâ€™t someone look at your stories before they go to press?
HF: When youâ€™re good, and I am good, you donâ€™t need anyone looking over your shoulder worrying about bias and accuracy, asking you if so-and-so really said this and actually did that. Iâ€™m a professional journalperson, if I said it happened, thatâ€™s good enough for anyone.
SJI: Donâ€™t you worry about lawsuits or disciplinary action of some kind?
HF: This isnâ€™t a job for the timid or the faint of spleen, this is instigative journalism. This is a manâ€™s job, unless youâ€™re a woman, and even then its helps to growl in a deep voice and shave your upper lip. Itâ€™s a lifestyle, and to do this right you have to pitch your tent right on the edge, and stay there until you fall off or get results. Like I said, people donâ€™t want their news sanitized by overzealous media gatekeepers, they want the real deal, fresh from the battle. And that takes risk, it takes dedication to the craft, and Prozac.
The real payoff comes from a job well done. From audiences disgusted with the newsmakers for doing what they did, with newsmakers disgusted with themselves for trusting me, with other journalists disgusted with me because I got the scoop that they were afraid to dirty their hands with. Thatâ€™s what makes it all worthwhile.
SJI: I hear you are becoming a commentator, will you miss reporting from the trenches?
HF: Not as much as it will miss me. (spits out coffee, laughing at his own joke) Seriously though, some people feel that you take up commentating because youâ€™re better at opinions than facts, but thatâ€™s not true for me. For me itâ€™s a well earned promotion, and a big responsibility. I had to get a bigger desk to hold all my comments, and a secretary to hold all my calls because I was so busy commentating. Right now Iâ€™m looking for a bigger shelf to hold all my awards, for when I get them, and a safe place to hold all the money Iâ€™m making. Iâ€™ve narrowed it down to either an offshore account or a new mattress.
SJI: What field will you cover?
“Itâ€™s really not fair to deprive some people of my input just because something isnâ€™t ‘my field.'”
HF: I know that some guys like to stick to niches or specialties, but Iâ€™m going to comment on everything. Itâ€™s really not fair to deprive some people of my input just because something isnâ€™t â€œmy field.â€ My comments are of value across all fields, in fact they operate as a sort of informational currency. For example, when comparing stories, reporters will often rate them according to the Fording scale. They might give an average story two Fordings, or a really good story four and a half Fordings. You never really see many five Fording stories though, unless theyâ€™re about me. But Iâ€™m sure youâ€™ll get a five for this one. If you donâ€™t screw it up too bad.
SJI: Thank you for your confidence. Do you have any last thoughts for our readers?
HF: Yes, let me remind them that quality doesnâ€™t come by accident. You donâ€™t just fall into the lap of brilliance. Unless you trip over me. (coughs up more coffee, laughing) No, you have to study and apply yourself. Read everything you can find about journalism. My new autobiography is a great place to start. It is recently revised with additional chapters covering the last few weeks, which should be of great significance to most everyone. In fact if you order today, you will receive a free subscription to email updates of my life story as they occur. Act quickly though, there has been a huge response to the book. Mostly in Romania, but Iâ€™m expecting it to catch on in English speaking countries as well.
Don’t miss any of Herman Fording’s fact-optional reports:
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