Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

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Losing Control

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dueling microphones

The interplay between interviewer and interviewee is a delicate one.  And sometimes, you hear the balance go off-kilter.  Such was the case in today’s installment of “Q” with guest host Terry O’Reilly  He was talking with reporter Ben Hubbard, the Middle East correspondent for the New York Times, about the issues in Dubai and free speech.  And the reporter had a lot of information to share.  But the interview had two problems.  One, the reporter didn’t realize he was bogarting the interview, and two, Mr. O’Reilly didn’t cut him off when he needed to be cut off.

Hosts are the captains of the interview ship.  They have the clock in front of them, they’re thinking about editing and network breaks.  So they have to be the ones to corral guest commentary.  And you can feel it when it isn’t happening.  The most obvious clue is when you hear the host trying to force their way back into the momentum of the guest’s response and failing. You see this at parties when someone on the periphery of a conversation tries to say something to capture the attention of the circle but a more powerful and maybe more credible someone keeps talking and so, holds the attention of the assemblage.  I call this “The Talkeover” and either the host or the interviewee can be guilty of it.

Of course, a guest with a history of being interviewed knows hosts need to cut in sometimes and has an obligation to let them.  But another problem is when a host has a guest with specific and unique information that timeliness might demand they share all at once.  You don’t want to stop them, really, because nobody else might have this insight or you don’t know when you’ll get them again or they might tell you something your researchers or librarians have left out of your notes.  So you balance the risk of letting them talk to the risk of cutting them off.

This isn’t a case of either person being rude.  It’s more both parties trying to fulfill their responsibility as journalists as each of them understand it.  And even between practicing professionals, it can get kind of hazy.  Worse, it can leave the audience wondering what just happened.

Written by Interviewer

January 7, 2014 at 05:38

Posted in Scratchpad

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