Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

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bouncing betty

Reporters and interviewers shouldn’t be sneaky. But I sometimes hear what sounds like sneaky on national radio programs. Here’s what it sounds like.

A guest is on one side of an issue. The interviewer is playing the devil’s advocate. FYI, that interview might have gone very well and smoothly in the direction the guest is advocating. But at some point, the interviewer decides to ask some contraian questions to make the guest consider the opposition’s point of view. That is perfectly legitimate.

What isn’t legitimate is when the interviewer quickly throws in a contrarian point without letting the interviewee respond. Anybody who has ever been the target of a catty comment would recognize how this sounds. It might go like this:

Interviewee – We believe that our policy works in the best interests of pets and their owners …
Interviewer – (Quickly) Yes, although many would say your policies were hastily developed in light of the recent scandal. (More slowly) Nonetheless, you have been getting high praise …

Did you see what happened there? The interviewer slipped in what certainly may have been a fact, but the way it was inserted sounded almost passive aggressive. And the passive aggressive label seems to fit even more in the follow up comment, which is in fact, praise.  An interviewee that hears that is probably poised to respond to the slap, but then gets the kiss and is thrown off a little.  Or, maybe both the interviewee and the interviewer absorb the comment because the interviewee knows it’s true and the interviewer is daring them to dispute it.  But either way, sometimes, this tactic lets the interviewer just skip away.

Confusing. And, sneaky.

People at home watching commercials don’t need Master’s Degrees in television production to know a good commercial from a bad one. Likewise, savvy radio listeners can hear sly. And if they go to a program, a host or a network for credibility, they want to hear straightforward questions and straightforward commentary, not teeny little host to guest ego bombs blowing up.

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Written by Interviewer

April 1, 2014 at 01:37

Posted in Scratchpad

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