A new track on SoundCloud “Ted Ferrioli Interview”:
Ted Ferrioli is the Republican Minority Leader for the Oregon Senate. He talked with Don Merrill about collegiality in Salem, the importance of listening to his constituency and his views on the effect of the American Legislative Exchange Council on lawmaking.
I talk about interviewing as if the interviewer is like a Greek warrior, always at the top of their game. But it’s not always that simple or affirming. Sometimes, most times, an interview is a conversation. But sometimes, it’s a hunt. It’s seek and evade. Sometimes, the interviewer fails to get to the truth or the point because they’ve been diverted or hall of mirrored. And when you realize its happened, it doesn’t feel good.
The most common way is when an interviewer asks a simple question, and what they get is a long and elaborate backstory that provides deep and wide context of the situation. The problem is that it offers everything except an answer to the question. But it may be so smoothly or forcefully delivered that two things happen in the interviewer’s mind. Either they think, “What was my question again? I don’t remember but that sure was a rich, elaborate and coloful reply” or “I know that wasn’t an answer. But after all that, I’m just going to let that non-answer go and move onto the next question”.
What should be going through the interviewer’s mind is, “I’ll be damned … you don’t have a clue, do you?” “You are trying to blow smoke up my ass, aren’t you?” “Are you avoiding me on purpose?” What should be going through the interviewer’s mind is “You didn’t answer the question, so I’m going to ask it again. Maybe a different way, but it’s coming. Get ready”. It should be said though that it can also be the case that the interviewer didn’t ask the question clearly enough, so the interviewee misunderstood it. So they paint around the center because they don’t really know what you want. But in the end, an answer that’s not an answer can’t explain away the fact that there is no “there” there. What that means for the interview recording session is large chunks of the conversation end up in the delete folder. For a live audience, it can leave them trying to find the point in huge bubbles of nothing.
That doesn’t mean an answer might not be in there, though. Sometimes, an interviewee will answer your question by first repeating it in some way, give a big block of history and finally, summarize their answer. When you’re trying to get to the essence of their answer, many interviewers/editors will connect the beginning to the end and cut out the middle with little change in the overall message, which can be a plus.
For those times though when the result isn’t so neat and clean, you may have to repeat your question. And asking the same question can piss off an interviewee, especially if they’re intention was to get you off track. And interviewing etiquette is a lot like any other kind of social etiquette; when somebody is doing something unacceptable, watching them do it in a bald faced kind of way is almost as socially unacceptable as whatever they’re doing that you’re staring at. But the problem isn’t you acknowledging the breaking of convention, it’s them breaking it. So if they get mad because you caught them not doing something they implied they were qualified to do when they agreed to talk with you, the problem is theirs not yours.
But of course, like Odysseus, you have to get past the silver tongued devils first.
A new track on SoundCloud “Tim Carr Interview”:
Tim Carr is a Republican who is running against incumbent Governor John Kitzhaber. He talked with Don Merrill about Oregon’s Public Employee Retirement System, the Columbia River Crossing, same sex marriage and why he thinks a gubenatorial candidate can only win if they win the hearts and minds of Portlanders. *These interviews are part of a project to invite all candidates for the 2014 election to share their views. A transcript of this interview will be posted shortly.
A new track on SoundCloud “Tay Firefly Fisher Interview”:
Tay “Firefly” Fisher has been with the world famous Harlem Globetrotters for five years. In this conversation with Don Merrill, he talks about how the team of basketball professionals is also a tight knit family, how they are standing on the shoulders of giants like Curly Neal and Meadowlark Lemon and why they decided to let the fans decide how they’ll play the game for the second year in a row.
A new track on SoundCloud “Betsy Close Interview”:
Betsy Close is a Republican running for re-election in the Oregon Senate. She talked with Don Merrill about equal pay for Oregon’s women, funding for Oregon’s schools and Cover Oregon among many topics. *These interviews are part of a project to invite all Oregon candidates for the 2014 election to share their views. A transcript of this interview will be posted shortly.
Oregon’s governor, John Kitzhaber, walked out of an interview with KATU reporter Kelly Lane in early January after four minutes and two questions. Staff cut the interview short because they said the governor needed to stay on schedule. But coincidentally, the interview ended immediately after Ms. Lane asked Mr. Kitzhaber about the failed Cover Oregon website. The governor’s office has taken an intense amount of what some would call well deserved heat for a breakdown in the site at practically every level of its development and implementation.
There are many reasons why a prior appointment time may have been missed by a staffer, thus forcing an interview to be cut short. Staffers also however, have the responsibility of shielding their bosses from potentially embarrassing questions that could lead to other questions about credibility. Which precipitated this incident is unclear.
This non-interview reveals how the most simple questions can be the most explosive, with two in particular being the time honored fuse and match. They represent the most basic questions reporters must ask whenever they are talking to a politician about a high profile and potentially politically damaging subject. Ms. Lane managed to ask a derivative of one of them. They are:
1. What did you know and when did you know it?
2. Where did the money come from and where did it go?
This whole kerfuffle was because the governor said he never received a message regarding an update on the problems of Cover Oregon although a member of the legislature said they received a reply from the Governor’s office that he would. Email messages can certainly be lost, accidentally deleted or misdirected. Which was the cause of the truncated conversation comes down, sadly, to he said “I didn’t get the message” while she says “Oh yes you did”. But there are things the reporter can do to not get in the way of these snits because such confusion can be surprisingly illuminating. And when it happens, it’s not the reporter’s job to get in their way or save an interviewee from themselves, although there can be exceptions. Those safeguards include:
1. Confirming the amount of time that will be set aside for the interview in advance and re-confirming that time before the interview begins.
2. Never taking such incidents personally. Reporters should only be a mirror that reflects the candidate’s behavior and actions back to themselves and their audience. A clear reflection lets the audience apply their own filter and make their own judgments on candidate viability.
I’ve said before how one of the most important things that the reporter can do during an interview is prompt a “reveal”. But as this example shows, non interviews can prompt them as well.
A new track on SoundCloud “Cathleen Callahan Interview”:
Cathleen Callahan is running for 1st position Circuit Court Judge in Columbia County’s 19th Judicial District. She recently talked with Don Merrill about small town dynamics, the need to take care of home and why she thinks she would dispense justice as fairly to her neighbors as strangers. *These interviews are part of a project to invite all Oregon candidates for the 2014 election to share their views. A transcript of this interview will be posted shortly.