Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Interview School in a Box

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box

That’s what a friend recently called this blog. She wants to start doing interviews and knew I was blogging about interviewing. So she visited and read a few posts, and hit me with that description the next time I saw her. I thought it was pretty clever.

When I listen to an interviewer interviewing, I think about all of the people they talk to, want to talk to, have talked to. I think about all of the subjects they have broached. And I wonder, are they expanded by those conversations? I used to think the same thing when I worked in news. A reporter, like an interviewer, talks to many people much more deeply about a much wider variety of subjects than other people. That, in part, is what gives them currency to the people who want to listen to them. They have something to say or tell that the average person doesn’t know but might want to know. And I have said before that an interviewer is merely a conduit from the person being interviewed to the person listening to the interview.

But talking about the person in the middle now, the interviewer, are they in any way changed by their conversation with Gandhi, or the Dalai Lama, or Hillary Clinton or George Winston, or Dr. Jonas Salk? I mean, the interview is a kind of anomaly to the story arc we’ve all grown up with. You know that arc; a situation contains a protagonist, an antagonist, a series of crises, revelations, surmounts, rewards … in other words, The Hero’s Journey. We expect all of the people in the story to be changed, which is supposed to make us ask ourselves if we’ve changed somehow. An interviewer is only supposed to help the person telling the story tell how they’ve changed though. And the listener is supposed to consider how their story changed them. We only tend to think about how two of the three people in that dynamic have changed.  The interviewer is crucial and at the same time, invisible and disposable.

But when the microphones are off and the studio is dark, and the interviewer is thinking about being an interviewer, are they thinking about what it means to be a human in conversation with a Gandhi or a Dalai Lama or a Hillary Clinton or a George Winston or a Dr. Jonas Salk, and “My God, their stories have filled my head and made me a better person!” Are they telling themselves “I will think more about philosophy or the environment or politics or the judicial system or childhood development or famine or elder abuse because I just talked to a philosopher or an activist or a senator or a judge or a pediatrician or a nutritionist or geriatrician.” Or are they thinking more pedestrian stuff like, will interviewee will show up on time? Or how they can’t really think deeply about what the guest is saying because they’re thinking instead about how the facility has just changed how staff people can now book studio time, or an upcoming doctor’s appointment or relationship problems? Or maybe they’re simply thinking, “This isn’t where my head is right now.”

It is such a gift to be able to talk to such accomplished people who, under normal circumstances, one would never, ever have the chance to meet, let alone talk to. But I wonder if interviewers, like professional photographers, are kind of doomed to never get the chance to experience the people they are with because they are professionally driven instead to make sure they present them well to their audience. Seeing or hearing people through viewfinders or headphones is not experiencing those people.  But I wonder if that’s the trade off.

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Written by Interviewer

June 13, 2013 at 01:23

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