Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Posts Tagged ‘honesty

Fake

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Fake

Sometimes, you hear it in the voice of the interviewer.  Fake laughing, fake surprise, fake incredulity, fake interest, fake sincerity.  And you know it’s fake because it sounds like stink smells and there’s never any question about stink.

You rarely hear fake in the voice of the interviewee, since it’s the interviewer’s job, in part, to keep the interviewee off balance and thus, by keeping them off balance, that can help keep them honest.  Usually, when an interviewee is answering a question, they are speaking off the cuff about something they should know well and that tends to lead to honesty.  That, along with the fact that a good interviewer has probably fact checked the hell out of them before they got there and will challenge them on untruths.

But also, with interviewees, you may hear a lie, but not them being fake, since interviewees who are not being truthful probably believe the untruths they’re telling more than they realize.

Interviewers though, silver tongued devils that they are, use a number of verbal gadgets to move the conversation along.  I’ve talked about some of them in this blog.  I’m sure a lot of people consider a forced laugh or a breathy “really!” pretty harmless if it breaks down social barriers.  But when I hear that too often from someone who wears the mantel of journalistic credibility when in fact, they are essentially sleepwalking through the conversation, I don’t see how they can expect openness or revelation from the interviewee or respect from the audience.

At the same time, questions can’t sound like they’re being asked by IBM’s Watson.  There should be energy and enthusiasm in the questions because there is energy and enthusiasm in the questioner.

It’s a hard line to walk, especially since it has been proven that occasionally mimicking a guest’s facial expression, tone of voice or body language makes them feel more comfortable and thus, more willing open up.  Its a truth about human nature we have to first learn, then have to learn to not overuse to the point of creepy or insincere.

A lot of the techniques interviewers use are legitimate and sometimes, necessary.  But fake shouldn’t be one of them.

When I hear fake, I think, “How do you still have a job?”

Written by Interviewer

February 21, 2015 at 06:28

Falling In Love Again

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Peach

As a journalist, when you talk to someone you end up liking, either because of their work or their personality, it can be painful to hear later that they have gotten involved in some kind of personal or organizational scandal.  At that point, you have a choice – you can either try to talk with them again to find out what happened and give them a forum to tell their side of the story, or you can not talk to them because you don’t want to seem like you’re piling on.  A journalist will tend to do the first even though to the subject, it can feel like the second which is why they may not choose to talk to you.  Then, the journalist might feel like, “I like you, but are you hiding something?” which can lead to, “Were you honest with me when we first talked?” which tends to turn on the nose.

This is how skepticism forms and the reason why so many journalists have so much of it.  So each time a journalist interviews someone new, there is this push and pull.  Distance from a subject is a professional necessity of the job.  And although we may not like someone personally, we may admire what they do professionally.  Or we may not like the work they do but think they are peachy-keen.  Of course, we try to keep these feelings to ourselves.  But if we like what they do or who they are and they end up in or near bad stuff, it can be hard to not feel a little disappointed or betrayed.

Each new face, new story, new personality sings to us because we tell stories by listening to stories.  To tell it well, we have to know it well and that can draw us in.  Every time we turn on the mic, we can fall in love again.

Damn it!

Written by Interviewer

January 25, 2015 at 02:09

“We didn’t talk about this in the pre-interview.”

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Lindsey Lohan

Interviewing, which is really just conversation, is never far from any of our lives.  “Conversing” is what we all do with each other.  It, along with body language and facial expressions, is how we decide each other to be safe or not, trustworthy or not, credible or not.

That’s why the conversation between Dave Letterman and Lindsey Lohan was such a wonderful lesson for us all.  Lots has been written about Ms. Lohan’s career.  Yes, she is young and talented.  And much has been written about her public displays.  Yes, courts have determined she needs supervision.  But neither of those was really what their conversation last night was about.

An excellent conversation is about what I call the reveal.  To cause a reveal, an interviewer has to be both skillful, like a surgeon with a scalpel, and a pummeler, like a bruiser in the ring.  Dave Letterman is a jester, but that’s not all he is.  You don’t have a late night TV interview show for more than 30 years by just being a clown.  In fact, savvy viewers know by now that the clown cleverly disguises the commando.  And when someone with the conversational skill set of David Letterman starts talking with someone who is both brilliant and apparently troubled, it’s a black ops mission under studio lights.

Essentially, he asked simple questions of Ms. Lohan; How many times have you been in rehab?  How will this time be different?  What are they rehabbing?  And on one hand, you could see she felt betrayed, at one point saying “We didn’t talk about this in the pre-interview”, as if to say, “You ambushed me.”

But on the other hand, think about it.  If you’re the handlers of Lindsey Lohan, you know very well what David Letterman is about and is capable of.  And if you’ve been dividing your time between keeping her working and keeping her out of the tabloid press, you might be looking for new ways to get her to change her behavior.

Who better to do that than Uncle Dave?  And when beautiful, big eyed Lindsey was faced with his brutal soft spoken-ness and a silent studio audience, you could see the ramifications of his questions and her answers ricocheting around in her mind like ball bearings from a Claymore Mine.  She cried.

“Now”, said Letterman, satisfied that he had cracked open her armor with his first wave of questions, asked more probing, more direct and personal questions.  “Do YOU have addiction problems?”  “Is it alcohol?”  “Do YOU drink too much?”

The job of the interviewer is to get in and get out.  David Letterman asked his questions and tied them up with a bow at the end by praising Lindsey Lohan for having the credibility to come before him.  See, everybody knew what could’ve happened, what was likely to happen, and it did.  It was no surprise to Letterman, and probably deep down, no surprise to Ms. Lohan.  But it probably was to the audience.  Her admission was a reveal to them.

But it was something for her too.  Lindsey Lohan has been on the Letterman Show five times in her career, and she’ll probably be on again.  Afterwards, she tweeted how much she enjoyed it.  Besides, look at their body language; they are mirroring each other and leaning toward each other. There seems to be mutual affection there. What Letterman has done, just like Oprah and Barbara Walters were also excellent at doing, was give somebody an opportunity to make penance.  When you think about it, it’s really a labor of love.  Interview and intervention share a common root.