Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Archive for October 2013

Talk Matrix

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I want to look at the different types of guest/interview mixes. There are several and each serves a different purpose;

Host to guest – This is the tradition mix. One interviewer, one host. This is the iconic, intimate conversation that you, the listener, gets to eavesdrop on. That can be the advantage. The disadvantage is that the guest might be boring or unresponsive or combative. In that case, the host and the listener are kind of stuck and everybody just has to plow through to the end. Experienced interviewers tend to have the skill and the resources to make most interviews palatable if not enjoyable more so than less experienced ones. But all interviewers have sometimes had a bad interview with a single guest.

Host to guests – You hear this when an interviewer is interviewing two or more guests. The best example of this is when an interviewer is talking with multiple members of band or a theater troupe. A variation is when a host is talking to two people representing opposing points of view. These tend to be high energy interviews, since the guests either know each other and play off of each other or know of each other and their respective positions. The disadvantage of these types of interviews is that the host can sometimes lose control of them because the guests get rolling in their own interpersonal dynamic, whether good or bad.

Hosts to guest – You see this mostly during news programs, when multiple anchors/hosts are talking to a single guest. The advantage of these types of interviews is you have different minds focused on the same guest, so different questions from other than a single point of view can be asked. This type of format is good when one anchor is known for pursuit and another anchor is known for conciliation or diplomacy. Producers can use them together to quickly shift the tone of a segment faster than one host may think to do.

Hosts to hosts – TV News stations in particular have done this for years. Anchor chatter is supposed to show you, the viewer, the camaraderie atmosphere amongst the anchors that is designed to make you comfortable enough to invite them (and advertisers) into your living room. You also see this during big news events like breaking news or political campaigns. Names and faces that we recognize as anchors or hosts in their own right now converse with each other from their own areas of expertise on the subject at hand. As a side note, the female anchor has traditionally been moderator, time keeper and moral authority during moments of anchor chatter, which are usually transitions from one segment (news to weather, sports to news, etc) to the other. A variation of this is something I’ve mentioned in a previous post; host to reporter. Both are a type of interviewer, but in different capacities.

Guest to guest – This deserves its own blog post.

Written by Interviewer

October 5, 2013 at 06:30

Posted in Scratchpad

Talking Points

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I just listened to and watched a CBS This Morning segment that included Gayle King, Nora O’Donnell and Anthony Mason. All three were interviewing House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. They began by talking about how the Capitol Police, in light of the shooting and killing of a woman who attempted to break through Capitol barricades, are working without pay.

That quickly became a conversation about the government, and all three anchors were clearly channeling the Twitter hashtag #shutdown. They each peppered Ms. Pelosi with questions that had a distinctive grassroots flavor. Gayle, said the back and forth in Washington sounded like so much “white noise” to most people; a characterization that the minority leader pushed strongly back against, essentially saying that the issue is much deeper than the ideological fight that it appears to be.

Nora asked about the ability of both sides to negotiate, which cued Ms. Pelosi to lock into the Democratic talking points, repeating Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s catchphrase, “They [Republicans] won’t take ‘yes’ for an answer”.

At this point in the deadlock, according to Pelosi, the Senate majority has voted four times in favor of the budget measures in the funding bill sent forward by majority House Republicans. But those measures are tied to the defunding of the Affordable Care Act, and apparently, the Democratic majority in the Senate considers that blackmail. Thus, they won’t approve that portion of the bill.

This isn’t a blog about politics, but about interviewing, and Gayle mentioned that Pelosi must know a lot about compromise since she has five children. Nora O’Donnell roughly shifted Pelosi to a quick overview of why she was in New York, which was to attend a conference supporting child care and equal pay for working women. I couldn’t tell if O’Donnell was trying to help the producer get out on time or if she was tired of hearing the minority leader spin. Either way, the segment ended on a note of congratulations for Ms. Pelosi who was celebrating her 50th wedding anniversary.

Interviews are supposed to have a point. As near as I could tell, the point from Ms. Pelosi’s view was to put forth the Democratic position and the point of the three anchors was to grill her as much as within morning TV decorum as possible. CBS has always struck me as the more liberal of the three traditional broadcast networks. To hear all three, Gayle, Nora and Anthony on the congresswoman “Murder Board” style warmed my heart because despite talking to one of the top Democrats in Congress, they were asking questions many Americans are asking.

Good job.

Written by Interviewer

October 5, 2013 at 01:00

New Track: Daniel Pinkwater Interview

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A new track on SoundCloud “Daniel Pinkwater Interview”:

Author Daniel Pinkwater has written more than 100 children’s books since 1970. But he told Don Merrill that he has only learned how to write in the last five or six years. And this commentator, author, illustrator and quiet resident of New York’s Upper Hudson River Valley admits that although not recipes for insurrection, his books have a hint of subversion since he never really had that much interest in adults as a child himself.

Written by Interviewer

October 3, 2013 at 12:54

Posted in Scratchpad

Daniel Pinkwater

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daniel pinkwater

Just had a great conversation with author Daniel Pinkwater. He turned out to be a gracious, no nonsense, down to earth person. Considering we never know how people will be (or how we seem to them), it was a very pleasant and revealing interview.

I came up with about 20 questions, with half of them related to the 14 years or so of contact he had with NPR. But I got the impression after a few questions that NPR wasn’t on his top list of things to talk about. I also kind of inferred that after checking him on Google Trends. For those of you that don’t know, Google Trends is a great tool that tells you how popular something has been or currently is in society. I noticed that between 2004 which is when Google Trends began and about January 2007, Mr. Pinkwater had up to 100 mentions at a time in the media. But after then, his media exposure dropped off sharply. And except for two spikes this year, it has continued to taper off.

He said in the interview that he likes the relative anonymity he enjoys in his Upper Hudson River Valley community because “nobody here reads books”. So when I asked him why he agreed to do the interview with me, he simply said “because you asked”. As an interviewer, you always expect things to be hard; agents, handlers, changed schedules, questions to avoid, tempers, equipment problems. But Mr. Pinkwater was a human version of WYSIWYG and it took me a second to get used to that.

Anyway, our talk will be up shortly. And thank you again, Mr. Pinkwater.

Written by Interviewer

October 3, 2013 at 02:10