Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Posts Tagged ‘reputation

Who Knows?

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Fry

This is a quickie.

Sometimes, I don’t understand how I get a particular interview. It’s not that I don’t consider myself a good interviewer. I am. And it’s not that I don’t work very hard to uphold standards of journalistic integrity. I do. But there is also a lot of alchemy involved in who decides to talk to you or not.

For instance, I know that many people I talk to don’t necessarily need to talk to me. I work at a small community radio station that has a reputation amoung some as being too far to the left and amoung others as not being to the left far enough. To that, I bring years of experience with the government and the military; not exactly the most liberal institutions ideologically.  Politically, I kinda sorta end up somewhere around the center.  I said all that to say the gun behind me is respectable but not huge. It’s not like we’re the Nation Station with numbers that dominate market share in the MSA or anything. But some of the people who’ve returned my calls and agreed to talk to me are amazing. Which leads me to the alchemy part. Namely, you don’t know who is talking about you to whom.

So, when somebody calls me back who seemed like a real long shot, I sometimes think, “OK, is this a vote of confidence that was cast for me by someone I’ll never discover, even if I might personally know them”?

And that is some humbling stuff.

As a reporter and a journalist, you want to have a decent name. You want to be seen as fair. What with so many people attacking us for bias at home, while overseas, journalists are attacked much more severely for so much less, you want to hold up the profession as best you can. I sincerely appreciate the callbacks I get and when they are truly amazing, after those first few seconds of surprise, I try to remember to close my mouth so I can get to work.

Sometimes, you never know who is working for … or against you. It’s probably for the best.

Written by Interviewer

September 18, 2014 at 03:41

You Fight for the People You Love

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gayle and oprah

This isn’t as much about interviewing as it is about the media and friendship.

Gayle King is Oprah Winfrey’s besty. And this morning, as an anchor for CBS This Morning, she defended the former Queen of Daytime TV from the hyperbole that is the news business. We all have all had times when we’ve have so much on our plate that we kinda sorta feel like, “What the hell am I doing with all this stuff on my plate?” But that doesn’t make most of us wanna sit in a corner in the fetal position, or have a screaming fit. Most of us, most times follow the popular meme; keep calm, and carry on.

But when you’re a A-plus-pluser like Oprah, people are always looking for chinks in your armor. Jealous maybe, I don’t know. I think about her fight with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association back in 1998. People are always out to get somebody like her who has done well by doing good. So in this latest iteration, somewhere, somebody started the rumor that Oprah was on the verge of, or having, or had a nervous breakdown. And you gotta wonder where this stuff comes from. Was it fact checked? It’s an old and unfortunate saying that the media likes to eat its young. And considering that Oprah Winfrey have given the world just about the best examples of personal and celebrity revelation that have ever sprung from the head of TV, you would think people on the button side of the camera would be a little better with their due diligence.

Well, whatever was going on, Gayle wasn’t having it. To paraphrase, she said the stories aren’t true and blow stuff out of proportion. And she quickly got support from co-anchor Nora O’Donnell that, yes, sometimes, it’s just an overabundance of busy that can make you feel overwhelmed, but that doesn’t have to translate into a month in the country.

I know Gayle came to Oprah’s defense for the 8 a.m. Pacific Time live airing of CBSTM, but I don’t know if she had repeated that message for the live broadcasts to Eastern, Central and Mountain timezones. I do know that I admire Ms. King for using her catbird seat near the tippy tippy top of the morning news mountain to cross the line back over to friend and be one to Oprah Winfrey. Clearly, she’s not afraid to take a swipe at the industry she currently works in. By doing that, she said what so many people in crappy jobs wish they could as clearly say – this is a job, it’s not my life. It’s not even the most important thing in my life.

If you can defend someone you love, you should and she did.

Written by Interviewer

September 23, 2013 at 23:27

“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.