Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Posts Tagged ‘Spin

Redundant?

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Redundant

Journalism has competing tenants.  One says, “Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them and tell them what you told them”.  The point of doing that, of repeating key aspects of a story throughout the story, is to reinforce the message since a long story can give people so much information they can get lost in it.

But the other one is that a lot of journalism tends to speak to people at about a 7th grade level.  There, the point is keeping things simple helps people follow the message.

Where these collide is the redundant review.  I often hear an interviewer ask a guest a question, the guest gives a perfectly cogent answer, and the interviewer, for some reason, restates that answer, and maybe even puts a slightly different spin on it than the guest intends.

I wonder why this happens.  Maybe the interviewer is trying to stay loyal to tenant number one.  Or maybe, they’re trying to stay true to tenant number two.  Sometimes, I wonder if there is a number three, namely, the interviewer is working the answer out in their own mind to make sure they understand what the guest is actually saying.

I have a third tenant that makes this tendency by some interviewers understandable.  The interviewer should be a surrogate for the listener.  And if there is ever  any question in the interviewer’s mind that a listener might not understand what a guest is saying, the interviewer should speak up.  My year of interviews with Oregon political office seekers proved this to be necessary over and over.

I’ve talked about interviewers adding spin, or restating or talking down to their audience.  Each of those is definitely annoying.  But not everybody who listens has the same capacity to understand and for that reason, journalism has to give those listeners the benefit of the doubt.  For those with capacity plus, they should see that as a win-win for us all.

Written by Interviewer

February 24, 2015 at 02:02

Police Talk

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police lights

Watching an interview with NY Police Commissioner Bill Bratton on CBS This Morning, I was reminded of how important it is for authorities to frame a discussion.

Mr. Bratton’s main and consistent response to the questions by Gail, Nora and Charlie about demonstrations in Ferguson was that unrest was caused by “professional agitators”.  The assumption he seems to be making is that legitimate demonstrations would never originate with local, grass roots frustration over perceived police injustice.  Apparently, according to the police chief, law abiding residents of a community don’t confront their own law enforcement for any legitimate reason and unrest in the streets is always the fault of outsiders.  Disturbance (as he told an NPR interviewer) of any kind doesn’t seem to be tolerable.  But isn’t even peaceful civil unrest a disturbance?  This basic disconnection between how police see the world and how people who feel victimized by the police seems to be one of the obvious and intractable problems between police and those who disagree with police policy.

By professional, I wonder if Mr. Bratton means people who are paid, or people who are considered experts such as, perhaps, Human Rights Watch?  And by agitators, does he mean people who are advising others on techniques for protest, not unlike (as he told the same NPR interviewer) the police NY sent to Missouri to advise and seek advice on how to deal with protestors?  Of course outsiders have axes to grind, leaders to taint and riots to incite.  Community leaders must scrupulously police their own ranks to insure protests are legitimate and effective.  But infiltrating protests is not just a technique for illegitimate demonstrator use.  Law enforcement agencies also have a history of using “professional agitators” for their own purposes.

BTW, Mr. Bratton never used the words “protestors” or “demonstrators” to describe anyone in any community who might be legitimately standing up against what they feel as unfair treatment by the police.  It is evidence that police departments, especially in high profile cities, are feeling under siege and their use of language is one of the tools they use to manage their own siege mentality.  It is the responsibility of media to compel them to precisely define their intentions and make clear their strategic use of tactical language.

Talking Points

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CBS

I just listened to and watched a CBS This Morning segment that included Gayle King, Nora O’Donnell and Anthony Mason. All three were interviewing House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. They began by talking about how the Capitol Police, in light of the shooting and killing of a woman who attempted to break through Capitol barricades, are working without pay.

That quickly became a conversation about the government, and all three anchors were clearly channeling the Twitter hashtag #shutdown. They each peppered Ms. Pelosi with questions that had a distinctive grassroots flavor. Gayle, said the back and forth in Washington sounded like so much “white noise” to most people; a characterization that the minority leader pushed strongly back against, essentially saying that the issue is much deeper than the ideological fight that it appears to be.

Nora asked about the ability of both sides to negotiate, which cued Ms. Pelosi to lock into the Democratic talking points, repeating Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s catchphrase, “They [Republicans] won’t take ‘yes’ for an answer”.

At this point in the deadlock, according to Pelosi, the Senate majority has voted four times in favor of the budget measures in the funding bill sent forward by majority House Republicans. But those measures are tied to the defunding of the Affordable Care Act, and apparently, the Democratic majority in the Senate considers that blackmail. Thus, they won’t approve that portion of the bill.

This isn’t a blog about politics, but about interviewing, and Gayle mentioned that Pelosi must know a lot about compromise since she has five children. Nora O’Donnell roughly shifted Pelosi to a quick overview of why she was in New York, which was to attend a conference supporting child care and equal pay for working women. I couldn’t tell if O’Donnell was trying to help the producer get out on time or if she was tired of hearing the minority leader spin. Either way, the segment ended on a note of congratulations for Ms. Pelosi who was celebrating her 50th wedding anniversary.

Interviews are supposed to have a point. As near as I could tell, the point from Ms. Pelosi’s view was to put forth the Democratic position and the point of the three anchors was to grill her as much as within morning TV decorum as possible. CBS has always struck me as the more liberal of the three traditional broadcast networks. To hear all three, Gayle, Nora and Anthony on the congresswoman “Murder Board” style warmed my heart because despite talking to one of the top Democrats in Congress, they were asking questions many Americans are asking.

Good job.

Written by Interviewer

October 5, 2013 at 01:00