Friday, August 29, 2008

Amazingly Graceful Interview

Doing press is really hard. You've got to be clear, smart, and articulate (and who's all those things all the time?). You've got to avoid being misunderstood, realizing that only the pithy nuggets will make the cut, and that all attempts to clarify are futile. If you're not someone the press needs to talk to, you'd better be interesting, or you'll not be invited back. And if you're being interviewed, chances are you have something at stake that you've got to push without seeming pushy, and to spin without seeming spinny.

That's a lot to juggle from within the glare of the spotlight! It's exhausting, and though the process gets easier with practice, experience only increases your trepidation, as you more fully realize the latitude journalists have in framing you within their story. This framing power is the reporter's prerogative, and most use it more or less fairly. But when reporters come to the interview with a negative bias, and you realize, with spotlight shining, that you're serving as Play-Do in whatever scene they're constructing, the creepiness factor can get very high indeed. It's surprisingly easy to come apart at the seams (and thus serve the purposes of a reporter trying to paint you as a bad guy, given that "rattled" always comes across very poorly to audiences).

It doesn't take much for reporters to signal their intentions to their subjects, though audiences rarely pick up on the subtle signals. I'll bet most listeners to last night's All Thing's Considered
interview of New Orleans post-Katrina restoration manager Ed Blakely figured NPR reporter Melissa Block was just being professionally tough. Yes, several questions started with "People say that you...", but that might be seen as giving the fellow an opportunity to refute negative hearsay. But listen carefully to the disdain in Block's voice. Blakely obviously caught it, but he did a brilliant job. He didn't get defensive, he didn't get riled. He stayed positive without glossing over, declined to lash back, and won the joust by a large margin. He didn't let the reporter interrupt, though on two occasions you could hear her gulping air to interject.

It's one of the hardest things in the world to do, and this was a textbook example of how to do it.

No comments:

Blog Archive