Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Biting Someone Else’s Lip

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biting lip

An interviewer recognizes a great interview to be a conversation with someone who is knowledgeable, passionate and unapologetic. Look at this triad as how any two can produce a predictable third reaction. Knowledgeable and passionate makes credible and interesting. Passionate and unapologetic makes explosive. Knowledgeable and unapologetic makes arrogant. These recipes create a conversation a listener listens to to learn something from; or to hear a fist fight or to gasp with shock. For an interview, these can all be good things.

But, sometimes, the interviewer has to use some judgment. It is often said across many disciplines that just because something can be done doesn’t mean it always should be done. That is especially true with people who are self professed in their knowledge, unapologeticness and passionate. Sometimes, someone may say something, or a series of things that leads you, as an interviewer to truly believe they may not know that of which they speak. To be more specific, they may know their craft or their skill or their profession, but they may not fully understand the atmosphere in which they voice their opinion about it.

I did an interview with a very knowledgeable, passionate and unapologetic employee that I edited more heavily than I thought I would because he said some stuff that, although spoken with what I believe was full sincerity, probably doesn’t need to see the light of day. None of it was illegal or socially unacceptable or inaccurate. But it was, I thought, on the borderline of other things. I’ve held a few jobs in my life, and I know that many employers takes a dim view of things it perceives to be poorly said and publicly shared. And being that I’ve spent my life listening to, taking down, chopping up and regurgitating things said by others to larger audiences, I’ve developed a radar for when someone may be taking aim at their own feet.

Is it my responsibility to weed through how they might do damage to themselves? I think so but I choose to call it empathy. Given the choice to not distribute an interview and distribute one with some parts cut out, I’ll choose the second one every time. That’s because I can leave what I think is obvious context for the listener and enough extra for them to fill in the blanks without drawing them a picture. But my job isn’t to provide the listener with a seat from which to watch the interviewee march up a ramp to jump to their professional death.

Journalism has this edict that whatever a person says into a microphone is their responsibility, and that is true to an extent. A bigot, sexist, a fascist, a corrupt financier or politician; yes, each and every word needs sunlight. But sometimes you know what someone meant because you’re human just like them and you want to give them the benefit of the doubt, so you do. No journalist will ever admit this because it isn’t the lockstep android like behavior people with pencils are supposed to exhibit. We are supposed to tell it all, tell it now and let the people we talk to fare for themselves in the arena. But what about people who have good hearts, or are excited to promote their work, or have no patience for ignorance or bureaucracy, but don’t know when to stop talking?

This guy was funny and loves, and I mean LOVES what he does. And I’m sure he gives these opinions to every one of the thousands of people he encounters every year. Or maybe not. Maybe I asked the questions that stirred up the answers he never gets to share but deeply feels. Either way, it’s called editing for a reason. And you just have to trust me because the stuff you don’t hear is on the cutting room floor, and that’s where it’s going to stay.

Written by Interviewer

August 27, 2013 at 08:46

Posted in Scratchpad

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