Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Posts Tagged ‘Agenda

It’s Over

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Voting Booth

For 11 months, I’ve been deep in Oregon politics; calling candidates, setting up interviews with candidates, interviewing candidates, editing the interviews with candidates, posting those interviews – repeat.  I ended this project with pretty much the intention I started with.  I was sick of people complaining about the poor quality of political candidates and I wanted to see where the problem really lay.  Was it with the candidates themselves, or was it with the people who listened to them, believed them and elected them?

I interviewed almost 70 of about 300 candidates.  Some dropped out.  Many didn’t return calls.  A few agreed to be interviewed and then apparently changed their minds.  No matter.  What matters is I’ve talked with a respectable number of executive, legislative and judicial office seekers since December 2013. I’ve blogged a lot about them.  And I’ve come away with some lessons.

1.  We should be grateful and proud that our elections are decided peacefully by the ballot rather than the bullet.
2.  We should be ashamed that our elections can be essentially paid for through deceptive ads by multinational corporations that keep hammering on the public’s perceptions until they cave.  To coin a friend from Russia, “The difference between Russia and the US is that at least we know we live under a tyranny.”
3.  We should be grateful that our system allows anyone to run for office.  The diversity of the electorate is reflected in the diversity of the candidates and that’s a good thing.
4.  We should be fearful that our system allows anyone to run for office.  I talked with several people who couldn’t put a sentence together or say what they were proposing but were quick to personally berate the opposition.
5.  Politicians know this can be a game.
6.  The voters often neither know it can be a game nor know the rules of the game.
7.  Neophytes tend to talk about what they will do if they get into office to change things and how they will work with those on the other side of the aisle to fulfill those changes.
8.  Incumbents by contrast spend their time pushing the opposition away with promises of what they’ve accomplished and candy dangling of what they’ve yet to do.
9.  Many of them were sincerely grateful to be given a chance to truly be heard.
10.  Everybody intensely believes they and their tribe have the answer.
11.  Everybody intensely believes in the system.
12.  I do too.

I’ve come to believe in it because, as President Obama clearly articulated, to get change you have to hold your politician responsible.  That means you have to hound the hell out of them because that is exactly why they are there; to be your advocate.  The problem though is that everybody who wants something from that politician thinks the same thing.  So it really does come down to who has the loudest voice.  And many people think that since money = speech, mo’ money means a really big mouth.  But I’ve found that’s not always true.

I’ve found that a tiny but consistent noise, like this one, can be pretty effective in getting a politician’s attention.  That’s how politics works.  That’s the only way it can work.  Point 12 is only true if an annoyingly persistent constituent can countervail points 2, 4, 5, 6, 8 and 10 by always being somewhere in the vicinity of a politician’s ear.

No, it’s not Mr. Smith goes to Washington.  But it does keep the playing field surprisingly level.  Because although money is a big motivator for a politician to be a shill for a moneyed interest, a persistent, watchful, educated minority can make it very, very hard for them to enjoy spending it.  So if, in the end, a politician ends up doing the right thing either because they truly are good people or because they don’t want to be pegged as bad people, what’s the difference? I really don’t care.

Tonight, I was fortunate to cap a year’s worth of reporting by being one of three hosts during three hours of live election coverage.  And I’ve realized that I don’t care much about the spin, or the agenda pushing, or the mind games.  I’ve learned how to deal with that stuff.

But, to circle back to what started this post, what did I discover?  Was the problem with politics with the candidates themselves, or was it with the people who listened to them, believed them and elected them?  Was it us?

To both questions, I can only answer … yes.

I will be paying much close attention to politics from here on out.

Written by Interviewer

November 5, 2014 at 14:22

The Stare

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The Stare2

Guests that you are interviewing may not always like where your questions are going. Or they may not understand what you’re trying to get at. Or they may not feel any chemistry with you. And consequently, you may sometimes get ‘the stare”. What is the stare?

The stare is a look that lasts just a few short seconds but is full of judgmental, incredulous or dismissive intensity. It may be a wrinkling of the brow, a rolling or squinting of the eyes or it may be expressionless. But whether intentional or not, it is a sign that you as an interviewer need to check yourself to make sure you know what you’re saying and how you’re presenting yourself to the interviewee. I say intentional or not because sometimes, savvy interviewees may want to throw you off your game for any number of reasons, ranging from wanting to control the agenda through intimidation to deciding they want to sabotage the whole thing. But other times, it comes from an interviewee who expected more professionalism than they’re getting.

It’s not as direct a tactic as confronting the interviewer openly and directly with a hot microphone. What it is engineered to do is silently shake your confidence with shame.

To deal with it when it happens,

  1. First remember the reason for the interview; the guest agreed to let you talk to them about a particular subject. You assumed you had a good reason for inviting the interviewee and that their story would be interesting or important to your audience. So you both want to be there.
  2. Next, have confidence in the research you did in preparation for the interview. Interviewees can be intimidated or impressed by you recalling pieces of their life they may have forgotten or didn’t realize were public. You never know which ahead of time.  BTW, that research should also include a look at the interviewee in previous conversations (if possible) so you can know something about their personality and whether it’s friendly or combative.
  3. Next, have confidence in the path you are plotting through their life as it relates to whatever the subject is. That means, make sure your questions follow some kind of logic/chronology that makes it relatively easy for the interviewee to see they make sense. And ask them those questions with confidence.
  4. Finally, respond rather than react when an interviewee gives an answer before or after the stare that seems judgmental, incredulous or dismissive. Respond means wait for the interviewee to finish, take a moment if you need it to compose a follow up question based either on your initial question, or on their response, and ask it directly with no qualifiers. (A qualifier is something you may say before or after a question or a statement that softens it).

Ideally, an interview is a conversation between equals, meaning the interviewee is talking with the interviewer who represents a listening or viewing or reading audience. Since no guest is greater than the people in the audience who acknowledge and empower them, they are obliged to treat the interviewer with respect.  When interviewees don’t, they are disrespecting the audience and their proxy, the interviewer.

But an audience will rally behind an interviewer and an interviewee will engage with that interviewer only if the interviewer is holding up his or her end of the bargain. If they’ve done a sloppy prep job or don’t engage the interviewee with confidence, then they may deserve the stare.

Written by Interviewer

March 17, 2014 at 13:05