Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Posts Tagged ‘OCD

Time to make the Donuts

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The only thing I like better than writing is building databases.  You would think those would be reversed considering writing is thought to be more of an artistic endeavor.  Creating spreadsheets, by contrast, is head down, butt in the seat, grunt work though, as someone who writes, I know writing can be its own kind of torture.

But there is something about the researching; the lining things up, the sorting, the cross-tabulating that I find fascinating such that the days or weeks or months it takes me to compile that data is as much the reward as the surprises the data reveal.  You would think filling rows and columns would be laborious and tedious and mind numbing.

Each piece of data helps build a picture that I anticipate like a kid’s first time visit to Disneyland.  I’ve always been like this.  I know I have to do this digging and shoveling, sifting and stacking.  But I also know that when I hit “Tabulate”, pictures in each cell start to move like pages in a flipbook and that is thrilling to me.

As I work on this book, I am digging as deeply as I have ever dug and I know what I’ve done so far hasn’t gone nearly deep enough.  I can be OCD like that.  But when the researcher is satisfied that he has found every article, report, study, white paper, message board or blogpost, he will hand it all off the the writer who trusts every ladder rung has been stress tested.

The writer will take that roiling vat of information and move to Step 2 of the process; corroboration; turning facts and assumptions into thoughtful and intelligent questions that people in the know can confirm (or refute).  Questions that I hope show the people I’m asking that I have done my homework.  Because nothing annoys professionals more than amateurs who waste their time.  These are busy people and my subject – money and how public radio stations get it – is at the heart of what each of them do everyday.  The writer will then take everything and exhaust pens, pencils and toner cartridges on reams and reams of paper.

My editor will first pat me on the head and tell me it’s clear that I’ve been thinking hard about this, but then fill the other side of the page with notes.  My graphic artist friend will tell me my ideas for artwork are good places to start. My programming friend will make me stare at numbers I’ve already stared at for months and make me make them make more sense.

And I will (for the most part) listen to these people because they are smart.

I hope the interviews I get, supported by the rows and columns I’m filling now, help me create something new and helpful to everyone who cares about public radio, listens to public radio and wants it to be the best it can be.

Time to make the donuts.

Keep Talking

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I want to mention that formatting some of my most recent posts has been kind of hinky.  I don’t know what WordPress is doing but I’m sure there is often somebody making tweeks that don’t work and then, those tweeks get undone and things go back to working seamlessly.  I’m hoping it soon moves back to the seamless part.

Anyway, this is another quickie.  It has to do with the interviewer’s mistakes during an interview.  Specifically, the concept of fixing as you go.  If you’re live, then your fixes are awkward because everybody hears them.  You have a brain fart, you stutter, you recall wrong information, whatever.  If this doesn’t happen too often, you are probably endeared to your listeners as being an authority, but not TOO much of an authority because, you can make mistakes just like them.  I’ll be talking about perfect host speech in a later post.

But if you’re recording the conversation for later editing and broadcasting/posting, your guest probably doesn’t care if you fix as you go.  In fact, they may be fascinated by the process because they too may not realize mistakes are made that the audience never hears.  When I, as a young reporter, learned that fix as you go was an essential tool for narration, it changed my world.  Because until then, you tend to want to be perfect.  Learning the mechanics of articulation can be a blessing and a curse.  Your speech improves by orders of magnitude once you learn how it should sound, about proper pronunciation and placement of tongue on teeth for words, letters and syllables.  But conversely, once you start noticing your own mistakes, you never want to make any.  And that means a young producer or reporter might spend way too much time starting over from the beginning ever time they make the slightest grammatical mistake.  That old joke of someone doing ten, twenty, thirty or more re-takes … sometimes it’s not a joke.

So the fix it as you go method is, you’re reading your text.  You make a mistake.  Do you go back to the very beginning of the document?  No.  Do you go back to the beginning of the paragraph?  No.  At most, you go back to the beginning of the sentence, taking care to remember your volume, pitch, cadence and mood so that when you edit out the mistake, it sounds seamless.  At the very least, you pick up at the word you messed up so you’re cutting a single word instead of a sentence worth of them.

Here’s what it might look like:

The case was returned to Grand Jury for … the Grand Jury after the Attorney General …

The mistake was in the first half of the sentence.  The reader forgot to say “the”.  This happens a lot because the brain is always ahead of the mouth.  Often you hear people skip words or juxtapose letters or syllables when they talk.  In the edit, all you have to do is cut out the first “Grand Jury for” and you’re good to go.  Plus, the fewer times you repeat words you’ve already spoken, the less of a chance you’ll misspeak them again, which also saves time and can prevent those annoying re-takes.

That might not sound like a big concession, to not repeat the whole sentence in favor of just a word or two.  But if you are OCD, like so many producers and reporters are, you realize that immediately continuing on from the point you messed up will save you scores of minutes of editing.  And if you’re under deadline, one second too late is still one second too late.

Written by Interviewer

April 11, 2014 at 03:00

Posted in Scratchpad

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