Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Archive for December 2015

Answers about Questions

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This is a quickie.

As I labor through a project I’m currently working on, the question of questions came to mind.  Specifically, the questions a reporter should be asking in interviews while doing their reporting.  I am thinking of two types of questions to ask and two types of questions to not ask;

To Ask:
Questions you think the audience would ask if they could
Questions that compel the interviewee to reveal something you or they didn’t expect

To Not Ask
Questions that sound like you’re reading them
Questions that you think make you sound smart

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December 21, 2015 at 12:19

Tight as Hell

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Hair on Fire

I recently listened to a program where the guests were talking  about climate change as it affected water use in California.  At the end of the program, the editor identified themselves.  It was the answer to a question I’d wondered for the entire 59 minutes.

I’ve talked about the benefits of a program being “tight” before.  But when you listen to a conversation, you’re not just listening to the words.  You’re listening for a rythmn, a pacing, a cadence.  You want to be able to settle into a cycle of up and down, of ebb and flow.

Smoothness is just as important as volume and pitch in a well produced and edited conversation.  And that means hearing the natural breaks between words, the natural pauses between sentences.  The breaths.

This program was amazing in that it packed so many questions and answers from these four people into such a short period of time.  But the entire program sounded winded from the beginning.  The edits were so close, they threatened to draw blood from each other.

I understand wanting something to move quickly so that it stays interesting.  And I understand having so much information that you want to insure you get it all in.  But you don’t want whatever it is you are editing to sound like one long run on sentence.  You don’t want your listener to be exhausted by the time they get to the end, because if they are, did they really hear it?

To that end, don’t artificially move a conversation faster than it should move.  On one side, that means don’t edit it so tightly that light can’t escape from the gaps.  Or, don’t use technology to speed up the programming; something that is happening in both TV and radio.  On the other side, if you have too much information and only so much time, be a producer and do what producers must sometimes do for quality’s sake.


Written by Interviewer

December 9, 2015 at 03:48

Posted in Scratchpad


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Dog with Tilted Head

I know people who can’t take a tone above about 4000 cycles per second, or hertz.  That’s about the frequency of the standard 1950’s plastic whistle.  Spending so much time in TV and radio, you get used to hearing test tones, squeals, hums and buzzes as you wander through a station and past various studios, editing bays and engineering benches.  But you assume they are temporary; the equipment is warming up, somebody is checking gear, whatever.

But tonight I heard something in an NPR story by Tom Bowman that I’m sure couldn’t have made him happy.  While he reported on a story, I heard a tone at about 12,000 hertz.  At that frequency, the sound is like a teeny, needle sized drill going into the side of your head.  And I know how it happened.

Sometimes, when you’re working in a studio, something isn’t quite right.  There is a mismatch somewhere, a loose cable, a bad circuit, a bleedthrough, an open pot – something.  And you think you’re hearing it but you’re just not sure.  So you record your narration and you edit the soundbyte and the piece is finished.  But then, you hear it later and you hear that thing you hoped wasn’t there, but clearly now; 12,000 hertz that isn’t in the soundbyte.  And you know what that means … it was you.  Not the field gear, not the phone, you.

And to the audience, they might think they’re hearing something else coming from somewhere else; it’s the refrigerator, or the TV or the computer.  Maybe it’s the Android.  But for Bowman and every newsie or producer/editor who spends their day hunched in front of Audacity or Adobe Audition, they know it’s not that.  They know the audience isn’t imagining things.  They’re hearing something that shouldn’t be there, they just aren’t sure what it is.

But we know, and man, that sucks.

Written by Interviewer

December 2, 2015 at 11:24