Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Archive for February 2013

“Stand Up” and other Colloquialisms

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sun

If I hear “at the end of the day” one more time, I’m going to scream.  Not really, but think about how many times you’ve heard a pundit say it at the end of an interview.  It’s supposed to be them, as an expert, saying that there is really no other way for the argument they are making to go.  They are claiming a definitiveness based on their own interpretation and authority.  But what happens when opposing sides are saying it?  Whoops, there goes another expression that was created to give power to one side that is being used by all sides and, thus becomes powerless.

Gravitas was that about five years ago.  Remember Gravitas?  If you had Gravitas, you had weight, heft.  You and your position and opinion was what everyone sought and what no one would question.  It was a reference to the immensity of gravity, which of course, is tied to the solidity and ubiquity of the Earth, without the bothersome physics.  But where is it now?  Gravitas has floated away. 

Finally, my favorite of the day … “Stand up.”  I’m hearing it especially from public radio stations.  It sort of feels like a back handed imploring by stations currently engaged in the warfare of fund drives.  Lets get the basic definitions out of the way first.  To Stand Up, means to have a backbone.  And if you don’t or won’t stand up, you are not worthy of respect.  You slither.  They can’t come through the radio and slap you for being a freeloader, listening to public radio programs without contributing to the station that airs them.  But they can insult you by implying what you are not if you don’t donate. 

Can’t stand up is another matter.  Stations constantly remind listeners that they can pay whatever you can afford, but of course, they suggest you afford the most you can.  They’re careful about that, considering some people need the infomation but can’t always put food on the table or gas in the car.  And if you can only afford the minimun, put it on an automatic payment so they’ll be sure to get at least that on a renewing basis. 

C’mon people, at the End of the Day, you have to Stand Up to have Gravitas.

I love language.    

Written by Interviewer

February 16, 2013 at 08:37

Posted in Scratchpad

I Love Interviewing People

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Every now and then, a thought or a feeling just erupts through the averageness of an ordinary day.  I’m sure it’s happened to you.  Something comes to you, like a little epiphany that nobody else would probably be interested in, but it makes you smile a real smile to yourself.

Here’s mine. 

I love interviewing people.  I love coming into contact w/people I would never normally meet.  I love trying to understand them, first by coming up with questions that might be one they’ve never heard before … ones that actually catch them by surprise so that the auto-answerer gets kicked off the rails.

Then, I love trying to understand them through their answers.  I love the pauses as they process the question, and decide how honest and sincere they will be.  Even if they give a safe, pat answer, it’s the pause that tells me, “uh huh.”  Not a “gotcha” type question, per se, but a consideration of the invitation by them to truly engage.  That’s what I’m looking for.  I’m just asking them to consider engaging.

I love the production process.  I love struggling over the right length of a breath, of a beat, of a silence.  I love turning an hour or “ummm” and “ahhhhs” unto 30 minutes of flowing dialogue.  Likewise, I sometimes listen to people wax so poetically about their passion that I can forget I’m supposed to be leading the thing.  Those flawless interviews practically edit themselves, as in, not at all. 

And connected to that, I love creating the thirty-second commercials about each interview.  Finding the music (Kevin McLeod of Incompetech), editing a good comment down and tying it up in a nice bow before posting it.  I like it.  So instead of a potential listener having to listen to an hour long conversation, like force feeding them a roasted pig, they can instead scarf down a teaspoon of barbeque pulled pork on a cracker.

And finally, I love sharing them.  I love it when people contact me and say, “Thanks”.  You know, sometimes, that’s all people have time for.  But the recognition that they got something they weren’t expecting and they liked it, that is satisfying.     

 

Written by Interviewer

February 16, 2013 at 04:30

Posted in Scratchpad

Eavesdrop

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eaves

This was the name that was given to the person that listened in on the conversations of others without their knowledge.  As defined by Old English Law, an eavesdropper stood at the point near a house where water dripping from the roof of that house, called an eavesdrip, hit the ground.  I bring this up because interviews are often described as conversations that other people feel like they’re eavesdropping on.  Because, as the thinking goes, the most interesting conversations are the ones where the conversants don’t know they’re being listened to.  Presumably, that’s when you hear the “juciest” stuff.

I watched an interview with a celebrity recently, and although this isn’t true with all celebrities, it is more so than not that when a celebrity is hawking a movie or a book or a song, they tend to talk superficially.  They tend to recap stuff that is already public knowledge, unless it’s something that really is juicy that their lawyer or their publicist forbids them to talk about because it might affect books sales or movie attendance.  In those cases, the interview is pretty much a waste of time for all except the truest of devotees who are happy just seeing their face and hearing their voice no matter what they’re saying.

That’s not to say these celebrities don’t want to talk about their struggles.  But as an interviewer, I also get it that by the time a celebrity is on mass media or social media talking about something, they’ve probably repeated it dozens, maybe hundreds, of times.  In all probability, they’re absolutely sick of it.  So, maybe they only want to talk about their movie or book or song because their personal stuff in the public space has become an annoyance even to them. 

Plus, celebrities have to deal with people who want to be them, or hurt them or hate them, for no reason other than those people have nothing else in their lives.  So celebrities, who are essentially no different from you or me, oftentimes need to wall themselves off from most of us and any sincere revealing because they have a lot to lose, including their money, their privacy, their reputations, their legacies, and in some cases, their lives.   

For the most part, an interview is a business transaction between the outlet and the interviewer doing the interview and the celebrity and their organization providing the interview.  The newspaper, TV or radio outlet gets ratings in exchange for the celebrity that gets buyers or attendees.  But in those rare moments when a celebrity does risk sharing something true and universal about themselves, it is priceless because listeners and viewers realize that this rich, famous, beautiful person can be angry or afraid, joyful or sad, confused or withdrawn just like them.  That they’ve felt pain and loss.  And for those times when people aren’t sitting on the other side of the microphone or the TV screen smug with schadenfreude, they are grateful for the reminder that we are all human, striving, seeking love and wanting peace and joy.       

Written by Interviewer

February 14, 2013 at 23:22

“Foreign” Policy

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This has nothing to do with interviews.  I’ll always try to make that disclamer in advance of a general rant.

The announcement this morning about North Korea’s successful test of a high yield, small sized nuclear weapon sent the diplomatic community worldwide into a tizzy.  It was “shocking” and a “violation” of warnings against pursuit of a weapons program by the international community.  “The Game is Changed” as one commenter said on one of the morning talk shows.

Really?

In 2005, when Barack Obama was making his debut as guest speaker at the Democratic National Convention, North Korea had just made it’s first test of a nuclear device.  It was what was called at the time “a fizzle.”  Tom Clancy fans know that means it was a bomb that didn’t blow up the way it was supposed to.

Pundits and strategic analysts at the time ridiculed the North Koreans, saying their program was “decades” away from anything of consequence.  Yet, the world was still reverberating from the news that a Pakistani engineer had sold nuclear secrets to Iran, and North Korea on how to build and deliver better bombs.  He was made a hero at home despite howls from the West to try and punish him for providing material support to terrorist regimes.

Then, there were all of those test launches by the North Koreans.  Their announcement of their development of a long range ballistic missile that might reach California.  Their test firing of a missile over Japan.  And a second nuclear test.

And now, a successful test.  Suddenly, it’s a crisis only seven years after the first warning, and only 19 years after President Clinton tried to veer the North Koreans away from heavy water to light water reactors and their much earlier thrust toward the bomb.   Suddenly, the North Koreans have the clout they have as relentlessly pursued as have the Iranians and the Pakistanis before them.  These regimes believe that only when they have the potential to deliver nuclear bombs do they get the respect they say they deserve and our foreign policy proves them right.  Yet, in the course leading up to their development, our government, for some reason, seemed powerless to stop them.

I understand the whole “sovereignty of nations” thing.  For us in the West, it’s an extension of the supremacy of the individual as is described in our Constitution.  It’s what the charter of the United Nations is based on … if sovereign nations can run roughshod over other sovereign nations, regardless of whether they’re international pariahs, then no nation is safe and by extension, at least here in the US, no individual is safe either.  The whole “internal affairs” argument countries use to keep other countries out of their murderous affairs breaks down if a higher moral imperative starts getting thrown around since, you never know when somebody might use the same arguement against your government.  The refusal of the United States to be a participant in the International Criminal Court and thus, subject to the valuation of governments it may consider less legitimate is an excellent example of that concern.

But now the most unstable regime on Earth is starting to look like the savviest – the jester with a gun.  The government that was berated and held at arms length as too smelly to be admitted to the table of “civilized” countries now has a working nuclear weapons program.  As the West hand ranged, lost inside of its own sturm and drang, the North Koreans puttered along like the little reactor that could.  And unless the Chinese, who by the way, don’t necessarily like the equivalent of a crazy person sleeping in their basement; unless they use whatever clout they have to tamp down North Korea’s lust for power and respect, they’ll be just as nervous and miserable as the rest of us.

Why no Stuxnet for Pyongyang?  Didn’t they have centrifuges too?  I mean, for them to get this far (further than the Iranians, apparently), didn’t they need have to have had a bunch of them spinning for years already?  But not a peep in the media.  Why not?

Foreign policy.  It certainly is.

Written by Interviewer

February 12, 2013 at 23:50

Facebook’s “People Talking About This” – Defined

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How is this different from “Likes”?  Facebook knows.  http://www.insidefacebook.com/2012/01/10/people-talking-about-this-defined/

Written by Interviewer

February 12, 2013 at 09:00

Posted in Scratchpad

Institutional Memory

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There is a buyout going on at the New York Times, and several high level employees all the way back from 1987 have been given two weeks salary for every year at the paper.  In this way, the Times has figured out how fill a h0le in its advertising revenue budget millions of dollars big.  But there is a cost, and the loss of institutional memory, or the character of the paper, can eat away at an organization like a cancer.  Here is the link to the story – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/24/new-york-times-buyouts-veteran-editors-leave_n_2544574.html. That’s why capturing those memories from long time employees before they leave is critical.  That’s exactly what Conversus does.  www.convers.us.

Written by Interviewer

February 10, 2013 at 06:31

Block Diagram

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I’ve been spending the last two days understanding why having a social network like YouTube or Twitter isn’t enough.  For years, I’ve had a bunch of different social networking accounts.  Whenever there’s something I want to talk about or vent about or promote, I go to one of them and squawk, oftentimes, forgetting all about the others.  So some network don’t get used for months, years.

But each one has a specialty and followers that don’t want to be ignored.  So, besides having a bunch of social networks, they all need to be connected so that when something happens on one of them, more than one of them will know about it.  So when I upload a new video to YouTube or a new interview to Soundcloud, if Facebook or Twitter doesn’t know about it, I’ve lost a big part of my audience.  So what if I post a brilliant observation (like this one) on WordPress.  If I can’t share it with my professional audience on Linkedin, stuff like character, personality, critical thinking and good grammar might not get highlighted to potential partners or customers.

At the same time, my Facebook page had become a garbage dump because all of my Tweets were going there.  In fact, I really hadn’t thought about how they were set up, so I would link them to Twitter through Facebook, and also, activate them to connect directly to Twitter.  So I’d have multiple tweets on the same subject.  This was especially bad when I used services like BufferApp or Circular.  A week’s worth of preloaded tweets, where many of them were repeats, made my Facebook page start to remind me of a room where every wall was convered with the same terrible blacklight poster.

So, I remade all of the connections and created a few new ones with IFTTT (IfThisthenThat).  Recognize it as a logic statement that means for something to happen, something else has to happen first.  It lets you link an amazing number of apps in almost any combination you can think of.  In fact, on their page, there are at least 2500 pages with 10 possible app combinations each.  A great idea.

P.S. Something else I just realised.  WordPress, Soundcloud and YouTube send or speak or create content.  Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin receive or listen or consume content.  The main mission of the first three is to create something; words, sounds, pictures.  The second three also create and send content, but it’s usually as part of a dialogue, not as a means to an end.  And people in the first three do dialogue, but I think they are more interested in creating and sharing and improving on what they’re creating and sharing.  So it makes sense that the consumer social networks don’t feed into, but are fed by the generating social networks.  I am making content like a meal for people to eat.  Then, I engage them in conversation to get them to review the dish and recommend it to their friends.

So, as reported, I now have a block diagram that is quite pretty and tells me exactly where each post I make goes and through which app.  I connected them, posted to each one of them and then watched where the posts went.  Sort of like pouring colored water in the toilet to see where it’s leaking thoughout the house.  Well, on second thought, that’s not a great analogy, but you get the idea.  IOW, no more garbage dumps.  Instead, this is all starting to look like a media strategy.

Written by Interviewer

February 9, 2013 at 14:46

Posted in Scratchpad