Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Guest to Guest

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In a previous post, I highlighted the different interviewer/interviewee mixes. Varying the number of guests to the number of interviewers creates a different type of energy for each type of interview, each of which serves a different purpose. All have been staples for journalism for many years. But guest to guest is different.

Philosophically, ordinary people talking with ordinary people is the ultimate expression of “Vox Popoli”. In a way, you could call it the crowdsourcing of the interview. You see these types of interviews a lot on community television stations or as part of a youth media education program. But unless it’s a segment on answering machines from America’s Funniest Home Videos, this version of guest to guest has no mass appeal. Famous people talking with famous people, by contrast, is a relatively new iteration of the interview, though not totally. Theater groups and programs that focus on policy analysis have dramatized the meeting and conversation of famous people who would have never met in real life.

But in real life, some booking companies have decided that, as an even greater events draw, they will cut out the nameless and forgettable, traditional-type interviewer and replace them with another big name. And sometimes, it can be marvelous. Brooke Shields as a guest host on the Today Show reveals her sparkling enthusiasm in talking with peers in the TV set venue. But sparkling and enthusiastic is her character.

In January 2013, the Atlantic Magazine published the feature story, “When Cultural Icons Interview Each Other”. Writer Alison Natasi collected interviews between Miranda July and Lena Dunham, Morrissey and Joni Mitchell, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jay Z, Tyler the Creator and Waka Flocka Flame, Howard Stern and Brett Ratner, James Franco and Marina Abramovic, Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell, Prince and Chris Rock, Danny Boyle and Darren Aronofsky and John Waters and Little Richard. In 2010, in honor of the 79th Academy Awards, Oprah Winfrey facilitated a series of interviews between the likes of George Clooney and Julia Roberts, Glen Close and Michael Douglas and Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman.

The Atlantic’s Natasi says of this interview genre, “sometimes it’s explosive, sometimes it’s intimate, sometimes, it’s … uh, … revealing”. John Waters feared he would end up in a fistfight with his icon and said of his interview with Little Richard, “Not all role models turn out the way you want”. When famous peers talk though, they may share the problems of fame or the creative process or personal challenges they’ve overcome. But they may lack the subtle skills of interviewing or find themselves locked in an ego battle with someone equally famous and formidable.

That is probably why the interviewer prevails. The interviewer’s role is to facilitate and I think that the best facilitators don’t introduce their own egos.

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Written by Interviewer

October 5, 2013 at 06:41

Posted in Scratchpad

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