Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Posts Tagged ‘Saturday Night Live

I was so Disappointed

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Fanning a Fire

As I listened to the Friday News Roundtable, which is hosted every week by OPB, one of the panelists said how “disappointed” they were that Republican nominee Donald Trump did not pick a more explosive and contentious vice-presidential running mate.

I thought to myself, “So, to be clear, you are disappointed that a potentially destructive candidate did not pick a more equally destructive running mate because that will make for a more boring story for you to report.”

This is another one of the long list of problems I believe permeate the news biz.

I loved the mid 2000’s TV show “Scrubs” because of its biting commentary on medicine, hospitals, doctors and culture.  One episode I remember was an argument between long time staff nurse Laverne and Chief of Interns, Perry Cox.  Laverne was asking about the tendency of surgeons to always choose exploratory surgery over other options and Cox said, “When was the last time you ever met a cutter who didn’t want to cut? Laverne! You have been here 40 years now, have you ever heard such a thing?”

Likewise, news people apparently don’t prefer a news story that is interesting but without the poisonous consequences over one filled with prurient and insane interest that also results in horrible consequences.  Part of the reason, I think, is because the more messy, complex, bigoted, disgusting story is guaranteed to have plenty of news babies; each of which can then be teased out ad nauseum and in gruesome detail.

They might say they don’t choose the stories they must report, and I expect that’s right.  One problem with the media is it is a competition.  Whoever can claim to be the fastest to report is seen as the best, the “news authority”.  That brings ad dollars.  And the worse, the better.  But there are a list of other “reasons” that I’m sure would be a counterpoint to each of the four points in the code of ethics for the Society of Professional Journalists.

But here’s the bigger problem.  Societies run by demagogues or plagued by fanned fires don’t suffer free media for long.   And I harken back to a Saturday Night Live bit for some support.  When Sarah Palin had appeared on the October 22, 2008 airing of SNL, with her Tina Fey doppelganger, there was a segment with Ms. Palin seated comfortably in an easy chair facing and talking to the camera directly.   And she essentially said that once she and John McCain become president, there would be some changes in how a TV show like Saturday Night Live could parody cultural figures.

I couldn’t tell if she was kidding or not.  After all, SNL is a program of humorous satire.  But there was no hint of humor, and her veiled threat of censorship sounded less like satire and more like a warning.  If Trump becomes president and if he had, instead of choosing Mike Pense, chosen Newt Gingrich or Chris Christie or even Sarah Palin, I wonder how long the sometimes, nose-high Fourth estate would continue feel invulnerable.  He has already threatened the media and the constitutional basis of a free press. A story that delights for its messiness, but raised to a sufficient temperature, can cook up some really nasty policy consequences.

So when I hear news people lament over how they wish a political story was more spectacularly shit-filled, or how they futz that a personal collapse is less compelling because the sufferer isn’t doing more to blow themselves up in front of cameras or microphones, I wonder if the American people (whoever that really is) might have a point when surveys show large swaths on both sides of the political spectrum say they don’t entirely trust the media.

I don’t mean the hard working journalists who report the facts and refuse to prognosticate or editorialize.  I mean what’s left.

Sincerity

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jimmy fallon

I just listened to Jimmy Fallon’s interview with Terry Gross. I heard it the first time back in 2011, and it was a pleasure to listen to it again for what I missed the first time. The main thing I got from it, besides the fact that Fallon’s impressions are really good, is that he comes across as sincere.

There was just something in the way he talked; kind of excited, kind of geeky, that just made me think. “This guy is being who he really is right now.” And Terry Gross was just as enamored with him. I listen to Terry Gross a lot, and I haven’t heard her that happy to talk with someone since she interviewed stars from “The Wire.” But, getting back to about being sincere, Jimmy Fallon said as much. He said something like if you come across insincere, it’ll show, people will know. He’s so right.

People want sincerity. There is lots of it in the world, but it’s out of sight. It’s around the corner from the hucksters and the sociopaths; the loud mouths and the control freaks. Sincerity is there, speaking at the same volume it always has, and people are hungry for it. Interviewing is a constant struggle between being your true self and holding back a little because you tell yourself, you’ve got to maintain that level of “professionalism” when really, you aren’t sure if you want people to know you THAT well.

He said he had never done interviewing before he started doing interviews on his show. To me, that says sincerity is what lifted him up. His creativity and the willingness of people to take a risk on something they see in him was all based on how clearly they could see it. When I talk to people, I sometimes edit out my stumbles, but listening to Fallon, I wonder if I should leave more of them in. I don’t know.

Listening to him be honest with me was what I aspire to be and do.

Written by Interviewer

August 30, 2013 at 10:17

Joke’s on Somebody

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Dunce

This is about interviewing, AND it’s directed at Saturday Night Live.

Skit #1 – The Talkover
A Western media outlet anchor is on the phone with a subject, preferably someone with a noticeably foreign accent on a bad connection. In the course of the discussion, the person on the phone takes offense to something the anchor has said or implied. The person on the phone is defensive and tries to get out what they’re trying to say. But the anchor, when continuing the question or asking a follow up question, continues to plow through, and over, and under the person on the phone even as they are responding or trying to respond. The anchor makes sure they get their complete question asked even- when-their-speaking-speed-falls-to-one-deliberate-and-unyielding-word-per-second.

Would it be funny on SNL? Probably. Is it funny on the air? Not really, because it shows how arrogant anchors can be, though it’s understandable where this came from. It used to be that a bully interviewee could out talk the interviewer such that the interviewer looked and sounded like they didn’t have what it took to keep control of the interview. But as communication has advanced, with human nature being what it is, and journalism being the dark art it can sometimes be, an adversarial interview is a good excuse for a good interviewer to softly beat the hell out of somebody just like this. I mean, an interviewer is supposed to be asking the questions they think the audience wants to hear. But sometimes, these can feel and sound like poking the bear, appropriate to nothing.

Skit #2 – Splain Me
A Western media outlet anchor is talking to a subject and the subject makes a common, cultural reference, and the anchor inserts a verbal ellipse, essentially grinding the interview to a halt and says, “That means blah, blah, blah …” for that uninitiated audience member who just for the first time, cracked open the door of their 1953 bomb shelter. To wit;

Guest – Within about 25 years, the Earth will …
Anchor – And just to be clear, we’re talking about the third planet from the sun …
Guest – Uh, yeah, anyway …

This is sort of understandable too. Back in the 70s and 80s, was when we were just starting to hear about how American school students didn’t know state capitals. And that got news organizations worrying that Americans didn’t know basic geography. Sadly, every so often Conan or Dave Letterman, or Jimmy Fallon or Craig Ferguson show, that for some of us, this is still true. But back then, it wasn’t so funny. So the networks started using more graphics and maps, and taking more time to explain the basic connections to the story they might be in the middle of telling. But now, with as much instant communication and ubiquitous access to Google and Wikipedia as there is, I’m starting to think that if people don’t know, it’s a lot like non-smoking education; it’s not because the information isn’t out there, maybe they just don’t care. This is something similar from a comment board called “unfogged.com” from 2007:

Guest: “And then Franklin Roosevelt created . . .”

Interviewer (interrupting): “That would be Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the United States.”

Guest: “Yes. Anyway, then FDR created . . .”

Interviewer (interrupting): “FDR being Franklin Delano Roosevelt.”

Guest: “Yes. Then FDR created the Works Progress Administration . . .”

Interviewer (interrupting): “Commonly known as the WPA.”

. . . and so on . . .
Posted by: Paul W. | Link to this comment | 02- 2-07 11:36 PM horizontal rule

OK, they may be a little less informed than you, but you’ve got them covered. So, maybe we can ease up on dropping the encyclopedia on the table in the middle of a good conversation.

SNL, these could be two new versions of your standard NPR skit setpiece. Pleeeeeze.

Written by Interviewer

April 30, 2013 at 04:10