Ferguson Interview Project (Birch)

This seemed like such a promising idea. In the spirit of Anna Deavere Smith or, closer to home, the collaborators who created the excellent production Objectively / Reasonable, Ms. Birch went to Ferguson, Missouri to conduct interviews about the Michael Brown incident / shooting / murder / assassination. The choice of words tells you something about the interview subject. On the plus side, some themes emerge, such as the number of municipalities around Ferguson and that their existence creates the need for separate police forces. Aside from the word choice issue and that recurring observation, Ms. Birch generally seems like she was the wrong person for this project.

Just because you can ask questions doesn’t mean you can conduct a good interview. She often seemed like she had a script and was unwilling / unable to vary from it. Her obsession with social media, the arts and her ill-conceived question about heroes revealed her pre-existing and, to my mind, superficial agenda. Though she asks each interview subject to identify themselves, she offers no basic biographical sketches about who these people are and why she chose them. There is no organization of the interviews.  She does not, for example, organize all of the interviews of the local politicians together. Or the clergy. There is just one interview after another. In addition to the lack of introductory or biographical information, there is no reflection. And Birch’s haste does not excuse her extremely poor proofreading.

While there are insights both large and small that can be gleaned from the interviews, I still wish someone more prepared and experienced had conducted them and put the book together. This might be the kind of book that can only be written once. I am glad that it exists, but at $35, I’m not sure how far it’ll travel and how much good it will do.

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