Archive for January 2014
A new track on SoundCloud “Judge Raines Interview”:
Judge Keith Raines is a sitting judge for Oregon’s 20th Judicial Dist. Circuit Court in Washington County and he is running for re-election. He talked with Don Merrill about judicial activism, running a court on a tight budget and how sharing his own mistakes with the people standing before him is a good thing. *These interviews are part of a project to invite all Oregon candidates for the 2014 election to share their views. A transcript of this interview will be posted shortly.
This is a quickie.
The interesting thing about interviewing is you can tell where the passion is very easily in someone’s views, arguments, whatever, and it’s not always where you think it would be. As an interviewer listening to someone voice an opinion, you would think that if you follow their logic, their thinking would lead you to a conclusion and it is in that conclusion where their greatest passion and truth would lie. But as an editor, watching the waveform of them speaking, you can see the most heat isn’t always at the end of a reasoned and well lit conclusion.
At the outset, I want to say that of course it is important to take the natural rise and fall in a person’s speaking style into account. But, with that said, I find me wondering about the conviction a speaker may have for whatever points they are making when I start paying attention to the volume of their voice as they speak. When the needle gets peaked or buried in places you don’t expect, I go back and listen to what they were saying and ask why, if that is where they imply they are most affected, doesn’t their emotion reflect that? Alternately, something that seems insignificant is actually a source of their real passion.
When they talk in hushed tones about something that they say is important, is it them being reverential or unsure? When they swing loudly upward, are they showing conviction or insecurity? I would expect a researcher could have a lot of fun comparing points of the highest and lowest volume of a speaker’s voice against where those speakers place their most relevant logical arguments. Anecdotally though, they don’t always match, which sometimes makes me wonder about the sincerity of the message.
As an editor though, all I really care about is that riding those highs and lows isn’t too much work for the listener. So, I usually end up smoothing those peaks and valleys out with compression or leveling software. Fortunately for me, all I have worry about is turning that picture into story for the listener to interpret for themselves.
But is it is one of those things that make you go, “Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm …”
Russell Hitchcock and Graham Russell make the legendary duo “Air Supply.” Hear an interview with them at http://www.soundcloud.com/interviewer-1.
I’ve been wanting to write about this for awhile because I listen to a lot of interviews and the thing about becoming familiar with a particular interviewer is that you become familiar with how they structure their conversations with their guests. You learn how they talk, their tics and mannerisms, the way they pose their questions. And after awhile, you realize it gives credence to that old saw, “Familiarity breeds Contempt”.
And because I do a lot of interviews, I listen to a lot of interviewers. It’s sort of a requirement of the guild of interviewers to keep up on the styles and techniques of others. In particular, I listen to a lot of Charlie Rose, Terry Gross, Jian Ghomeshi, Bob Garfield, Ira Glass, Michelle Martin, Dick Gordon, Melissa Block, Gwen Iffil, Bob Edwards, Jonathan Goldstein, Tavis Smiley, John Stewart, Brooke Gladstone, David Letterman. And I listen to a lot of regional and local interviewers too. But one interviewer in particular has some really annoying traits that I am having trouble dealing with.
This person says “um” or “you know” almost constantly. He (and it is a he) asks the first part of his questions and then has this annoying way of slipping in an “I mean …” as a way of trying to rephrase the same question without making it sound unbearably long and drawn out. But when he does ask questions, sometimes they’re long and drawn out anyway. I sometimes hear him suck in his breath in preparation of his next question and I wonder if he is truly listening to the guest or just biding his time until he can line through the next question on his list. And finally, he has this tendency to uptalk which is a kind of grating in a universe all its own.
I listen to this guy on a regular basis and I am full of respect and criticism. I of course admire all he had done to find his guests, research them, schedule them, visit them, interview them, edit them and present them. His guests seem happy. His audience seems appreciative. But I hear these traits of his and I just want to pull my hair out.
I know he is getting better, slowly. I can hear him trying to pace himself so he doesn’t slur words. He doesn’t seem to use “um” so much. He holds his breath for a beat after the guest stops talks so he doesn’t sound like he’s rushing through his questions.
Little by little, he’s improving. I’m guessing knows he’s got a lot of work to do to be anywhere near as good as any of the people I mentioned above. But my standards as a listener are high. The pros have set the bar and this guy, although I like him, doesn’t get a pass for his mistakes. At best, he gets my patience while I look over his shoulder, watching and waiting for him to improve; to be as good as he wants to be.
I have faith in him, though. He’ll get there.
A new track on SoundCloud “Jason Heym Interview”:
Jason Heym is campaigning for the 1st Position Judgeship in the Columbia County Circuit Court. The court, in Oregon’s 19th Judicial District, is a trial court and Heym is thinking seriously about being a trial court judge. Don Merrill talks with this Goldberg Jones attorney about his gritty style and how he says he will do everything he can to protect a person’s right to their day in court.
I sometimes talk about the “dark art” aspects of journalism and interviewing. This one is firmly rooted in the “How To’s” of discrediting an interviewee and making yourself sound smarter or more of an authority than you are. Stump the Chump means asking questions, or pursuing lines of questioning that, on some occasions, are rhetorical and on other occasions, esoteric. But both are intended to throw the interviewee way off their game.
How? I have conducted interviews with people about to start a new job. Since these people have worked very hard for this job, a listener might assume that they must have done all of their due diligence to learn about every aspect of it. I mean, that is what the idea of “hitting the ground running” is all about. An employer or a constituency wants to be confident that the person they have just put in this important position knows as much about it as the person about to leave it so there can be as little disruption as possible.
Journalists and interviewers can exploit this assumption to the extreme however by asking the interviewee questions purposely engineered to be outside of their knowledge. For example, let’s say the interviewee will be part of a department that is responsible for an interactive system that updates the public on something or other. If there have been changes to that system, or if it has been down for maintenance, a Stump the Chump question might be, “So, what can you tell me about XYZ system, and why has it been down so long?” It’s possible that the interviewee will know about XYZ system, but it is much more likely that they don’t because they have been overly occupied in learning the broader aspects of the job; the direct responsibilities of their soon to be predecessor, the politics of the position, the specific day to day requirements, organizational structure and so forth.
But a question that seems to be germane to their duties that they have difficulty answering can make them sound unsure at best and incompetent at worst.
A good interviewer spends at least hours, and probably days plotting a course through the interviewee’s experience with a list of questions. With that kind of birds-eye view of the interviewee, a general knowledge of the job and an overall understanding of the culture as it relates to both, interviewers can cogently test an interviewee’s knowledge in a way the listener can relate to and evaluate.
But although journalists and interviewers are intelligent and savvy enough to discover and formulate legitimate questions that the interviewee considers expertly posed, they are not the experts they are interviewing. Journalist and interviewers with the intention to embarrass interviewees can find themselves on thin ice if they pursue this tact. And those experts can fight back against Stump the Chump questions.
The simplest way is to simply ask them to “explain” what they mean. Unless the interviewer has relatively deep knowledge of the inner workings of the issue, they may find themselves stuck and unable to further explain their question. A variation of this is if the interviewee reasks the interviewer’s question “for the purposes of clarity” in an equally complex way but from a different technical direction. Since the interviewer may have only investigated one aspect of the problem, an interviewee that forces them to repose the question from another direction can shut down that line of questioning.
Another way the interviewee can avoid being cornered is to say something along the lines of “I don’t have an answer for that right now, but I would be glad to get back to you or one of your staff with an answer/solution before the end of the day”. This is a good come back because it shows that although they don’t know, they promise to find out. This can give them credibility with listeners.
Most interviewers are professional, meaning, their intention is to not think for the listeners. That can mean not trying to funnel or filter audience thinking through their own by way of questions that emphasize one aspect of the interviewee or denigrating others aspects. A professional interviewer asks open, honest, straightforward questions with no subtext on the assumption that the audience is intelligent and can come to their own opinions about the interviewee, their experience and qualifications for the position. Stump the Chump questions are asked by amateurs who lack confidence or so-called professionals with an agenda.