Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Stories vs Policies

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I am drawn to talk to politicians. In light of the events our country periodically plows through and is changed by, I’ve come to believe what I can do is use my experience to flesh out the thoughts and plans of those people who would lead us. In the course of that work, I hope I’ve revealed to some voters the fitness of some candidates over others, but in the end, that is their decision … not mine.

However, there is one place where, as I prepare those stories to be heard, I have to make choices. And that is in the edit. I package long form, audio conversations in 30-minute increments mostly because if a radio station is going to use a piece, it has to fit within a block big enough to be substantial but small enough that it doesn’t interrupt a local or network programming schedule. Thirty minutes seems to be that sweet spot.

But candidates can be long winded. That is in part because of them. These people are passionate, and I want to ask them a question that gives them free range to talk about the answer for as long as they want, in whatever way they choose. One answer can go minutes long. But part of it is because of me. I could stop them at a certain point to make sure all of their answers to all of my questions don’t go beyond 30 minutes. But then, I could miss something that is a definitive reveal; something not mentioned in a bio or a campaign webpage. So, I encourage them to be long winded knowing I’ll take the hit later, meaning I’ll be spending hours listening to every word, figuring out how to cut it all down to something cogent, cohesive and in context.

One of the biggest aids in doing that is listening to stories they tell and how they interweave with policies they’ll promote. This is a simple version of say vs do. Although stories (which can be metaphors for how something that happened to them will translate into a belief that will lead to an action) can be telling, in the end, what a listener wants to know is how will you fix my problem? They MAY be interested in how their problem relates to the story told. But one of the things I’ve noticed interviewing candidates is often, many words are used to say (or not say) simple, direct things.

So, I end up asking, “If I include all of the stories the candidate considers important, and all of the policies that are related to those stories, will that make the interview unusable to the radio station?” Often, the answer is yes. Then, none of the candidate’s thoughts can be heard and the public has less information. Then, it’s deciding which stories to keep that have the strongest connection to a thing the candidate will actually do, rather than a piece of fluff that surrounds an unclear policy or an indirect answer. Sometimes, if there’s time, all of their stories can stay. Sometimes, some of them. Sometimes, because of that long windedness and passion, there are no stories and only their policies remain.

I have been doing this since 2014. I encourage candidates to tell me if they feel they have been misrepresented. So far, candidates across Oregon’s wide political spectrum seem to feel the intent of their messages have remained intact. It is important to me to make sure they continue to feel that way and that voters have the clearest, most concise picture of who they are and how they will affect lives if they’re elected.

Written by Interviewer

April 17, 2022 at 01:27

Posted in Scratchpad

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