Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Posts Tagged ‘live

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

This is the Problem with Pretaping

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OPB Exterior

To paraphrase, that’s what OPB’s Dave Miller said before a retake on the intro to a story about a report issued by the state on elder and disabled adult abuse.  The story was the second segment on this morning’s “Think OutLoud”.  He was retaking the intro because he wasn’t happy with how he had said the words “vunerable adults” as he described that upcoming story.  It was one of those rare moments when you get to peek behind the veil of what seems so often like aural perfection to see the tiny screw ups that most producers and editors successfully remove.

It also made me realize that Think Outloud isn’t live.  They’re clear that the evening rebroadcast isn’t live, but I’ve always thought the morning version is.  It isn’t, but it suddenly made sense why they tell listeners earlier in the morning to start submitting comments for Think Outloud; because they begin recording the program at 10 a.m. and are finished between 11 and noon, which is when they broadcast the taped version for the first time.

I’ve talked about these kind of mistakes before, noting that with the sophistication of equipment and the crunch of time, it can sometimes be easy to miss a retake until you hear it later.  It can be a cringe worthy moment.

It will be interesting if Mr. Miller’s retake is in the evening re-broadcast.

Written by Interviewer

October 31, 2014 at 02:40

Posted in Scratchpad

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Good Stuff

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Last night was the last of three, live candidate forums I moderated.  Two candidates for US Congress showed.  Tuesday night, three gubernatorial candidates came.  And Monday night, eight legislative candidates (four vying for the same district) were there.  This whole process of being immersed in politics was nothing planned.

It started with me annoyed that the federal government was doing so much illegal surveillance of ordinary citizens.  So I built a website to give people more direct access to their state constitutions – http://www.stateconstitutions.us.

Then, I got the idea to interview political candidates in advance of the 2014 state elections.  In many cases, the parties anoint who they want to be the frontrunners and the smaller candidates with no money and no name recognition get no exposure from the media.  I wanted to change that and give them all a voice.  Of the 283 candidates that filed their candidacy on the Secretary of State’s website, I’ve interviewed about 40 of them since December 2013.

Those led to the idea of having debates between candidates running for different branches of government.  And come June, after the Secretary of State opens filing to third party candidates like the Greens or the Constitution Party,  I’ll probably repeat the process over for them who get even less love.

I’ve learned a lot about government, what it aspires to be and what it often is.  And that has made me both discouraged and encouraged.  Most people who want to be judges care because they know the judicial system can be intimidating.  Most people who want to be lawmakers are not greedy, self-centered whores of moneyed interests.  By contrast, they are passionate about serving their neighbors and trying to make a better world.  And most people running for governor are clear thinkers capable of making truly executive decisions that try to balance the reason of courts against the passion of the legislature.

Before this project, I would’ve dismissed politics as an impediment to people trying to conduct their day to day lives.  But now, I see it as a process that is absolutely essential to be at least aware of, if not engaged with. It is your right to not engage.  But I’ve learned that if you have that kind of apathy, other people who don’t have your best interest in mind, will engage in your name for their own benefit.  They will sponge your resources, make your decisions and they will affect your life in ways that you will only accidently discover when you day to day runs into their deaf, ubiquitous and unyielding bureaucracy.

Written by Interviewer

May 2, 2014 at 05:59

Painful

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Just so you know, that’s what a live forum can be if you don’t have the time to properly prepare.  I am still wincing a little.  Tonight was the first of three candidate forums with legislative, executive branch and  congressional candidates in advance of Oregon’s primary election on May 20th.

Eight legislative candidates came.  The board op was great.  The timer was great.  The news director was great.  But at a community radio staton, there is no overabundance of support staff.  So a lot that gets done has to be done by the person who has the original idea.  In this case, that would be me.

That is fine, unless, as my old relatives used to say, “Your eyes are bigger than your stomach”.  In other words, if you’re trying to do more than you’re able.  And in my case, it was trying to do everything perfectly and forgetting to write an intro script for myself.

The simplest thing in the world.  Just a couple of sentences to set the whole thing up and get out the first question.  But running into the studio, with a whole bunch of little snafus leading up to the red light going on left me with not even a couple minutes to scribble out anything but the briefiest of notes to me.

Which is fine, but people who’ve been in journalism their whole life rely partly on ad-libbing and partly on the written word.  And sometimes, if the written word isn’t there (scribbling doesn’t always count), the ad-libbing isn’t either.  Sometimes, under duress, you can’t read your own writing.

So my first minutes of the live forum was me thrashing around for my thoughts because I didn’t have time to give me a good opening.  I eventually hooked onto my focus, like some wildly swinging grappling hook that finds a piece of chain link fence.  After that, I can admit the rest of the forum went pretty well.  But of course, that’s not enough.

I will listen to the forum because it’ll remind me to never let such a flub happen again.  Thing is though, in my past, other stuff just as unsatisfying has happened, and more than once.  It’s called experience.   My peers would say, let it go. They’re right. I can laugh about it later.  Newsrooms pass around DVDs of bloopers that the public never sees of some of the most embarrassing shit ever.  So, I’m in good company.   I’ll chalk it up too.  But for now, ow.

It was a reminder to be better.

It was a booster shot.

Written by Interviewer

April 29, 2014 at 11:48