Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

“There are four lights!”

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four-lights

Decidedly uncomfortable looking Presidential spokesperson Sean Spicer tried to make the American public not notice the paltry number of attendees at the inauguration of President Donald Trump.  Why the numbers were so small is anybody’s guess and debatable.  What is not debatable, except only to the most strident supporters of Newspeak, is that even a significant fraction of voters for Mr. Trump seemed absent from the National Mall.

But this isn’t so much about those there or not there on Friday.  Those voters may feel they’ve already spoken and other demonstrations aren’t necessary.  It’s more about how easily can people be turned from the obvious to the shiny nothing.  It’s about how quickly can we all come to love the new President with the speed of the Stockholm syndrome. It’s about with how much enthusiasm can a redirect of “alternative facts” send us careening off in an insignificant direction or observing the joy with which will we finally surrender the “hard work of liberty.”  In the remaining time we have freedom of speech, they’re questions worthy of pursuit.

In college, we read a book called “Njal’s saga.”  It was about a Viking family around the year 1000.  The professor wanted us to take away from the story the fact that in ten centuries, people haven’t changed and continue to be swept up by their fears, angers, jealousies, desires for vengence, lust, prejudices, plots, quests for power and pitieous efforts to matter.  And how, there have been, are and will always be those who are constantly trying to bend others to their will.  But, as a trekkie and an ardent student of politics, Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean Luc-Picard got the last word.

As should we all – http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2009/05/there_are_four_lights.html

How Was I?

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pretty-please-eyes

People can be sweet.  I say that because I can’t remember how many times, after an interview, somebody looks at me with all sincerity and innocence and asks how they did?  Did their answers make sense?  Did they sound like they knew what they were talking about.  “You won’t make me sound stupid, will you?”

At these moments, it’s my job to reassure them.  “No, of course you didn’t sound stupid.”  “You’re here because you’re the expert.”  “It’s not my job to make you sound bad.”  It is my job, though, to honestly present them to the audience.  To do otherwise would be doing a disservice to them and listeners.

I once interviewed a candidate for a state office in Oregon.  This person was registered with the Secretary of State, along with a slate of qualified and assumedly, highly confident and competent competitors.  But, this person was not confident.  And as we talked, they showed their utter lack of knowledge on the most basic issues someone running for that office would need to at least be familiar with.  At the end, they asked me how they did.  I asked them how long they had been considering their run before they decided to do it.  It was a decision they had made against the advice of family and friends.  As for the reason why they sought this office, I didn’t get a clear answer either in the pre-interview, during the conversation or afterwards.

I aired the interview.  Another candidate won the office.  But still, I didn’t see it as my job to present them in any way other than how they presented themselves.  And though I tried to be gentle in my review, the fact is, they didn’t bring the goods and they sat themselves down in front of my microphone.

Everytime, an interviewer has to be professional and most times, kind.  But you can’t always protect people from themselves.

Written by Interviewer

December 27, 2016 at 07:03

Transformation-Oriented Counterpublics

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dive

While doing research for my book about the public radio pledge drive, I came across this quote from, “Public Radio and Television in America: A Political History” by Ralph Engelman.

Mr. Engelmen, in the conclusion of his book, was explaining whether or not Pacifica was trying to do too much by being totally self governing and at the same time, trying to give voice to all of the voiceless.  He quotes John Mclaughlin of the Mclaughlin Group, in 1994;

“Because so many social and economic inequalities cut across group interests and prevent the realization of a truly democratic public sphere, an effective strategy would seek unity amongst transformational-oriented counterpublics for a collective struggle, to form coalitions that extend beyond micropolitics.”

This sounds a lot like employing the in/out argument versus the left/right argument to find common ground between those for whom, on the surface, there seems to be no common ground.  I wanted to show that this idea, in the wake of the results of the presidential election, is not new thinking.  An earlier blogpost referred to how many in the media missed the groundswell for President-elect Donald Trump while also not noticing how many Trump supporters would’ve also voted for Bernie Sanders.  They wanted foundational change and they were looking at both ends of the political spectrum to get it.

These ideas probably just dive beneath the surface once they have served their purpose in earlier times and resurface into public consciousness when they are needed again.  Perhaps in the future,  news and public affairs programs will look for more of these non-traditional, counterintuitive connections.  Maybe finding them will spark more meaningful conversations across groups rather than on the echo chambers within groups.

To The Good

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pondering

In the course of writing my book about the public radio pledge drive, it has happened twice so far.  Twice, I have found discrepancies in secondary sources.  Reporters love doing that.  And when I notified the purveyors of that information, they acknowledged their errors and fixed them.

I’m just plodding along here.  For me, this process isn’t fancy or technical.  Rather, it’s more like connecting cars in a toy train set.  But it feels nice to know that not only am I paying attention, but I am correctly interpreting what I find.

Written by Interviewer

December 7, 2016 at 00:31

Goddamn, Goddamn, Goddamn

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goddamn

Three goddamns.

That’s how many were in an interview between OPB’s “Think Outloud” host Dave Miller and “Eat, Pray, Love” author Elizabeth Gilbert in their rebroadcasted interview today from September 2015.  Although not one of George Carlin’s original “Seven Dirty Words”, the trifecta reminded me of a 2009 interview NPR’s Madeline Brand had with Jeremy Renner, who had starred in “The Hurt Locker”.  Words were bleeped but his use of “goddamn” wasn’t, which prompted a listener to ask the NPR Ombudsman why not?

The Ombudsman replied that “using god damn it” is not legally profane, according to the FCC.  The phrase is not, in legal parlance, “actionable”.  The federal agency defines three standards for language; obscene, profane and indecent:

1. Obscene content does not have protection by the First Amendment.  For content to be ruled obscene, it must meet a three-pronged test established by the Supreme Court: It must appeal to an average person’s prurient interest; depict or describe sexual conduct in a “patently offensive” way; and, taken as a whole, lack serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.

2. Indecent content portrays sexual or excretory organs or activities in a way that does not meet the three-prong test for obscenity.

3. Profane content includes “grossly offensive” language that is considered a public nuisance.

However, a training pamphlet from KBOO Community Radio in Portland, Oregon, identifies words and contexts that apparently are to be avoided just in case an official decided to interpret the law a little more broadly.  These include not playing certain songs or repeating certain song titles, sexual jokes or innuendo, creative editing of profane or indecent words or fleeting references, such as “Oh Shit!”

KBOO giving the realm of questionable language such a wide berth might have something to do with the fact that the station was fined $7000 in 2001 for violating community standards on its “Soundbox” program.  The station had broadcast a poem by performer Sarah Jones that included lyrics the FCC considered indecent.

From the FCC lawsuit:
Radio Station:  KBOO-FM, Portland, Oregon
Date/Time Broadcast:   October 20, 1999, on the “Soundbox,” between 7:00  and 9:00 p.m.
Material Broadcast:  “Your Revolution”

(Various female voices)

Your revolution will not happen between these thighs
Your revolution will not happen between these thighs
Your revolution will not happen between these thighs
Will not happen between these thighs
Will not happen between these thighs
The real revolution ain’t about bootie size
The Versaces you buys
Or the Lexus you drives
And though we’ve lost Biggie Smalls
Maybe your notorious revolution
Will never allow you to lace no lyrical douche in my bush
Your revolution will not be you killing me softly with fujees
Your revolution ain’t gonna knock me up without no ring
And  produce little future M.C.’s
Because that revolution will not happen between these thighs
Your revolution will not find me in the back seat of a jeep
With L.L. hard as hell, you know
Doing it and doing and doing it well, you know
Doing it and doing it and doing it well
Your revolution will not be you smacking it up, flipping it or rubbing it down
Nor will it take you downtown, or humping around
Because that revolution will not happen between these thighs
Your revolution will not have me singing
Ain’t no nigger like the one I got
Your revolution will not be you sending me for no drip drip V.D. shot
Your revolution will not involve me or feeling your nature rise
Or having you fantasize
Because that revolution will not happen between these thighs
No no not between these thighs
Uh-uh
My Jamaican brother
Your revolution will not make you feel bombastic, and really fantastic
And have you groping in the dark for that rubber wrapped in plastic
Uh-uh
You will not be touching your lips to my triple dip of
French vanilla, butter pecan, chocolate deluxe
Or having Akinyele’s dream, um hum
A six foot blow job machine, um hum
You wanna subjugate your Queen, uh-huh
Think I’m gonna put it in my mouth just because you
Made a few bucks,
Please brother please
Your revolution will not be me tossing my weave
And making me believe I’m some caviar eating ghetto
Mafia clown
Or me giving up my behind
Just so I can get signed
And maybe have somebody else write my rhymes
I’m Sarah Jones
Not Foxy Brown
You know I’m Sarah Jones
Not Foxy Brown
Your revolution makes me wonder
Where could we go
If we could drop the empty pursuit of props and the ego
We’d revolt back to our roots
Use a little common sense on a quest to make love
De la soul, no pretense, but
Your revolution will not be you flexing your little sex and status
To express what you feel
Your revolution will not happen between these thighs
Will not happen between these thighs
Will not be you shaking
And me, [sigh] faking between these thighs
Because the real revolution
That’s right, I said the real revolution
You know, I’m talking about the revolution
When it comes,
It’s gonna be real
It’s gonna be real
It’s gonna be real
When it finally comes
It’s gonna be real

In 2003, a more forgiving FCC, after hearing from Jones herself and the station, chose to rescind the fine.   Fortunately for KBOO, both the fine and the rescision were before the Janet Jackson “wardrobe malfunction” during the 2004 Superbowl.  The public outrage which followed caused the FCC to jack up fines per violation from $32,000 to $350,000.  Such a fine would’ve been like a planet killing asteroid smashing through KBOO’s tiny 8th Avenue studio.

The FCC determined that community standards were not violated.  It is an example of how the law regarding obscenity, indecency and profanity, whether gratuitous or not, is and isn’t written in stone.  There may be several standards at work when stations chose to allow or restrict language that may or may not cost them big bucks, public support or both.

What is Old is New again

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rolled-parchment-paper

As I continue working on my book about the public radio pledge drive, I came across a quote from Susan Stamberg’s “Every Night at Five”, published in 1982.

“We ask people what they make of the tax cut, the threat of radioactivity, Watergate.” “Their reactions are barometers of the political climate.  Lyndon Johnson is supposed to have said that when Walter Cronkite criticized his Vietnam War policy, he knew he’d lost ‘Middle America’.  During Watergate, when a Nixon voter in Manhattan, Kansas, told us he’d lost faith in the president, we knew Richard Nixon was suffering heavy losses.”

I found this the day after reading Kyle Pope’s critique in the Columbia Journalism Review on how the media missed the in/out debate by paying too close attention to the left/right debate.  That, after hearing Scott Simon commenting on criticism of the media in wake of the election.  And that, after discovering an interview PRI’s Andrea Seabrook did with Current magazine back in August where she articulated the same thing; the “what unites us is much more than what divides us” argument, and how many people are angry about the same things.  For example, in Portland, Oregon, KBOO news director Lisa Loving said she was pitched a story of Wall Street Occupy protestors reaching out to Malheur Occupy protestors.

Ms. Stamberg’s quote reminds me that the media goes through cycles of lucidity.  With the election of our president-elect, it seems it has, again, emerged from a period of darkness.  And while it parries criticism, it will double down on a new way to explore something that it once learned, forgot and has apparently found again.

Written by Interviewer

November 15, 2016 at 03:01

Over the Top

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overflowing

This is a quickie.

I am very interested to see if and how commercial and non-profit advertising changes in the wake of the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president.

I have noticed more bi-racial couples in advertising.  Also, more people of color as well as more gay, lesbian and physically and emotionally challenged.  I wonder if that will lessen.  Also, I wonder if the language in advertising will change to reflect less inclusion and more language that is less “politically correct” as a reflection of the new reality.

I wonder if social comedians and satirists will become more harsh and pointed in their social critiques.  I wonder if local news will focus more on crimes committed by people of color.  Will national network news be more jingoistic regarding stories of other countries?  I wonder if social media will become even more vicious.  I wonder what kind of new TV shows networks and production companies will develop and if they will feature no-nonsense business leaders or presidents kicking ass and taking names.  And if wonder if gun sales will now fall.

All of this may sound like over the top speculation.  But, I’m wondering what qualifies as “over the top” anymore?

Written by Interviewer

November 10, 2016 at 01:46

Posted in Scratchpad