Thursday, October 7, 2010

Media Interviews

In the early days of television, the BBC interview program Face to Face set the standard for such telecasts. Its salient feature was the hidden interviewer. The camera over his shoulder focused on the guest throughout the entire program. The CBC program Take 30 had much the same format. The interviewer's ego was restrained. Since then, the interviewer has gained prominence to the point of intrusion. He/she has become the celebrity, not the guest.

The interviewer-free format produces desirable results: It minimizes the temptation of interviewer at self-glorification. It does not provide the interviewer with a platform for his opinions. It discourages negative interrogatories so favoured by today's media.

The format today is designed to showcase the interviewer. The late but not lamented program of CNN's Lou Dobbs illustrates this common practice. Dobbs introduced his guest as an expert in the topic of the day. With the camera focused on his abnormally white teeth, Dobbs opened with a self-serving thesis, the guest given time only to validate on what Dobbs has just said. Dobbs repeated his harangue. The guest uttered the affirmation sought by all down-scale interviewers, "You are absolutely correct." Another close-up of Dobbs's teeth ended the interview.

The flow of intelligent dialogue too often is not present as much as the listener deserves. Some interviewers operate from an inflexible agenda, thereby forcing the interview into a sought-after conclusion.

The closest we come to the ideal is TVO's Steve Paikin. Alone on camera for only short sequences, questions well phrased and researched, his personality never intrudes, no hand waving, no head bobbing. His guests are encouraged, indeed urged to soar. That's why they are there, to inform the viewer.

The clue to the interviewer's style is the negative interrogatory, and the word "but." For example, "But do you not believe...?" Good interviews are conversations among knowledgeable people.

The interviewer represents the listener. Questions should be those an informed person might ask. To accomplish this, the interviewer must be a well-researched listener, not a polemicist with an agenda.

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