Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Posts Tagged ‘message

How to Be Wrong

leave a comment »

Red X

KBOO is a community radio station here in Portland that has occupied the far left politically and on the radio dial for almost 50 years.  I conduct interviews for KBOO’s news and public affairs.  So I assumed that because KBOO champions LGBTQ issues, the news director would be interested in new Governor Kate Brown’s view on human rights issues as they affect that group.  Ms. Brown is the nation’s first bi-sexual state executive.  I had been trying to secure an interview since shortly after she assumed the governorship.

Chris Pair, the Governor’s spokesperson was, at all times, prompt in his replies to my requests and cordial in explaining the governor’s schedule and the difficulty in getting an interview for anything except in response to specific issues, i.e. bill signings, policy statements, etc.  But today, he was specific by saying focusing on anything other than Ms. Brown’s work in office is not where they want to take the messaging.

Jenka Soderberg, KBOO’s news director concurred with Mr. Pair.  She said she didn’t understand why the mainstream media, including the Oregonian, had latched onto Ms. Brown’s personal life while there were many more pressing issues that she felt deserved public attention.  Among them, what Ms. Brown can do as Governor to prevent the EPA from forcing the city to cover its reservoirs.  Or learning her views on preventing Nestle’ from setting up a bottling plant in Cascade Locks and using ungodly amounts of water while Oregon is suffering through its worst drought in decades.

At that moment, I felt like I had missed a meeting.  And I remembered again why they’re called news “directors”.  I guess it’s one thing to assume something is important, but it’s another for it to actually be as important as you assume.  And we all know what happens when we assume.  Reporters need directors and editors because reporters are not always right.

Maybe later, the messaging will line up and make that other conversation happen. Maybe not.  But pressing business is the headline today.

I get it.

Advertisements

Written by Interviewer

May 22, 2015 at 09:47

Exactly Who Are They Talking To?

leave a comment »

Polyglot

When I hear a political speech in English from a foreign politician or diplomat, I always wonder what is the intention of the message?  Who are they really talking to and what do they really want?  I mean, if the President of the United States intentionally speaks directly to the citizens of a foreign country through an interpreter, he is talking to them, not Americans.  When this happens, it’s usually to rally the people by talking around an oppressive regime or somehow repair a damaged American image.

Likewise, when I hear a foreign leader or representative speaking English when English is not one of their official languages, I conclude they are are not talking to their own people, they’re talking to Americans.  And then I wonder why?  There are plenty of examples of press conferences where someone from country X is talking to the world media, but the language they use is that of their own people.  Their own media doesn’t have to interpret.

But when they speak in English, the message is very different.  It’s directed to American politicans who direct America’s money and military and influence.  Or it’s directed at the American people who can be a soft touch for broad themes they’ve mined from our history like liberty or here recently, collective fear.  “This is not just a threat to us”, they like to say as if to say, “Support us if you know what’s good for you.”

Listeners need to listen close to what foreign leaders are saying or warning when they choose to speak in English.  It’s going to be significant to US foreign policy eventually.  At the same time, the dynamics of political speech aren’t that deep.  It’s just human interaction.  The level may be different but content and context aren’t much different.  Think of office cubicles with nuclear weapons and you’ve pretty much summed up the mundaneness of how people try to coerce each other on the geopolitical stage.

Written by Interviewer

January 13, 2015 at 06:35

Measure Twice, Cut Once

leave a comment »

Image

This is a quickie.

Listening to an interview with an interviewee that speaks nervously requires a drilling down on that interviewee with increasing focus to be able to edit the speech of that interviewee and accurately convey the message they are trying to share.  When you’re listening to an interviewee talk, you should listen first, in a general way.  What is the flow of how and what they are saying?

Then, start listening to exactly what they are saying and asking yourself, it is contextual?  Is it logical?  In other words, does it make sense?  Is the answer answering the question?

Then pay attention to things like tone, pitch, volume and frequency.  When you edit, you want to match these things if possible.  You can’t attach a word ending with a high pitch to a word beginning with a low pitch.  Or a word spoken quickly to a word spoken slowly.  This can be jarring and unnatural.

And finally, listen for personal quirks of speech, such as stuttering or run on sentences for example.  These are part of the person’s character.  You want them to sound good, because a poor speaker can be distracting.  But, you don’t want to sacrifice who they are because of a desire to sanitize their speech patterns.  It’s a balance.   One other thing about that.

Sometimes, it is hard to find a place to cut.  What you’re looking for is a complete thought; what’s called a natural break.  They may talk for five minutes about something, but they make the point in the first :45 seconds.  The problem is because they may ramble, it’s hard to find that natural break.  That breath where, in a conversation, someone listening might think, “OK, new thought.”  So, you may have to go forward a little ways past where you want to stop or backwards a little ways before you wanted to stop to find that natural break.  Just make sure you’re keeping all of the other elements in mind so that when you make the cut, it sounds like you hit the natural break exactly.

When it’s time to start editing, keep all of those elements in your mind like a juggler keeps balls in the air.  They are acoustical differences that can make it physically difficult to cut or move words, syllables or phones.  Challenges to retrieving a complete thought in the editing process while trying to not let an edit sound like an edit, can be like drawing a picture in the dark.  It takes patience, attention to detail and an appreciation of language and the human voice that might be likened to that of a music critic.

Written by Interviewer

April 28, 2014 at 13:46

A Mighty Wind

leave a comment »

Image

I’m doing a lot of editing right now.  And when I edit, I hear things I want to talk about as part of the interviewing process.  One of those things is the message.  The interviewer is neither the messenger or the message.  He or she is the conduit only.  But the interviewer is referee, governor, filter, interpreter.  In other words, the interviewer has the responsibility to help the listener not waste their time by making what they hear crystal clear.

This can be a problem when you have a long-winded interviewee.  I’ve talked before about interviewees who may be purposely trying to obfuscate an issue by taking around it or intimidate the interviewer.  But what I’m talking about here is a guest who has a lot of very relevant things to say, but the problem is they have way too many of them.

Specifically, you ask a guest a question.  The guest begins to answer the question.  Then, for perhaps context, the guest decides to tell a personal anecdote.  That personal anecdote might then lead off on a tangent.  Sometimes, if they get too far afield, you have to interrupt to pose the question to them again.  If you’re lucky, the guest returns to the original question and reiterates the question themselves with an answer.  But now, you have a long winded response that, although entertaining and relevant, it a lot more than you have time for, let alone what the listener has patience for.

When editing something like this, it’s very important to get to the point while not taking too many liberties with what they’re saying so that the chain of understanding is not broken.  It’s easy to cut out a block of what might seem like a meaningless story, only to realize you need a connector that the guest used a couple minutes back to have any hope of making a seamless edit that makes sense.  For instance, a guest might say, “Well, to answer you question about gun reform … and then tell a long story about going shooting with her uncle, and then move onto an experience of being stopped by a cop because they saw a gun under their jacket … and then, finally summing up the need for looser gun laws by saying something like … “so, I think people should have the right to carry a gun if they’re properly permitted and have never been convicted of a crime and have no mental illness.”

Uh oh.  First of all, the answer is too short now.  Some questions deserve answers with a little meat. And in the middle of the story, they may have mentioned permitting and not having a record and never having gone to anyone for counseling, but you didn’t notice.  So now, they are at the end of the story and they mention three concepts the listener hasn’t heard except in the middle of all of that other stuff.  So you’ve got to go back into those pieces of the story you just deleted and find those mentions so you can rebuild a more complete and meaningful thought, just with a lot fewer words.

You can’t leave in the whole story because you don’t have the time.  But you can’t connect the beginning to the end without some of the stuff in the middle that ties the two ends together.

Editing is like learning a script for a play.  You have to learn your lines and everybody else’s.  Once you do, you know where things go and how they make sense.  Only then, can you know how to cut them up into smaller but better pieces.

Written by Interviewer

April 11, 2014 at 06:12