Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Puppy Power

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This is about interviewing.

Take a brand new puppy, one that is still learning to walk.  So, that means, it staggers and falls down a lot.  It’s on unsure paws.

Videotape that puppy in sunlight with happy music, and it is portrayed as sweet and comical.  Videotape that puppy in low light with somber music, and it’s life looks to be slipping away while you feel pity for what seems like a cruel and impending death.  Videotape that puppy in lots of shadow with menacing music, and it’s a zombie, slouching toward you to infect you.  But the thing is, in all three examples, it’s the same puppy. It is still just trying to figure out how to walk.  It doesn’t care about lighting or camera angles or time of day.  It’s not thinking about you.  More to the point, it’s not about you.

Same thing with people.  In one lighting situation, someone might look untrustworthy.  In another, they might look like a revolutionary.  And in still another, they might look like a genius.  But if they are putting themselves in the hands of a lighting director or a sound engineer with an agenda, whatever they say to the reporter might not matter.  It’s how they seem to us, or rather, how our perception of them seems to us.

In physics, there is an idea that the event is changed by the observer.  That the mere act of watching something changes what is happening.  That’s true, I think, only to humans, because as humans, only we can say we know what we are watching and as humans, we exist with each other and affect each other.  A universe without humans, … well, I don’t know.  Would it still exist if there was nobody to watch it and judge it?

Words like trustworthy, credible and evil are labels that to the person being watched may mean little, especially if they are trying to get what they consider to be a pristine message out.  But another interpretation of that quantum vis-a-vie human phenomenon is that style does tend to matter more than substance and no matter what, people tend to see the world through the translucence of those labels.  Without language, how would we see each other?  Better?  Worse?  And with language, how do we not see each other?

The next interview you hear or watch, pay attention to how they trigger your labels, whether through a collar left up, a button unbuttoned, a microphone with improper sound or a light that casts a harsh shadow.  There are people paid to make sure these things don’t happen, and of course, there are mistakes. But media has a dark side with dark, subtle arts like dishevelment and obfuscation.  Pay attention to what you see and hear as it affects the messenger, and try not to take your meaning solely from the facilitator.

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Written by Interviewer

March 19, 2013 at 02:55

Posted in Scratchpad

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