The art of interviewing – Don’t declare your love in public!
Impartiality, neutrality , objectivity , equitability.(Is this sounding like a Synonym dictionary?!) Fairness, unbiasedness, unbigotedness,(Yes, that really is a word). Geddit? It all means: no prejudice. Even-handed. In journalism it’s a given. Or it should be. But, listen to your radio, watch your TV, read your papers and this is not what you are getting, is it? It’s like the eleventh commandment for journos, yet the pressure not to obey is mounting hugely and, worse still, the nay-sayers get away with it for so many reasons.
Inadequate training is one possibility, although there are more media courses and degrees than ever before and it’s fast becoming a graduate profession. However, employers are looking for other talents as well as journalism. The fear is that digital skills involving a camera, sound recording kit, editing and social media take precedence. A shortage of time and money often results in a lack of production oversight and, perhaps, even a cowardice about insisting on supremely high standards.
Perhaps you could claim that the outrageous, unfair or fawning interview you’ve just witnessed was not a journalistic interview. Maybe, you could argue it’s a “personality interview” or “a celebrity revelatory outpouring”? The excuse, in this instance, might be that we hear only one side because it’s, “just a friendly chat. It’s no big deal.” Or, are we hearing only one side because someone is being asked emotionally challenging questions which cause them, dramatically, to cry or relate intimate or controversial details, so you shouldn’t ask anything awkward? Your bosses wouldn’t want to stop the flow. Am I being unduly cynical?
Or maybe the personality/politician/trade unionist who seldom agrees to interviews and certainly not on your show, is letting their defences down, as advised by their publicity department, and you don’t want to destroy the kudos you’ve been offered.
My point is only this. All interviewees deserve to be challenged. Sometimes that means only that you ask, sympathetically, “What?”, “Where?”, “Why?”, “When?”, “How?. It doesn’t mean you have to behave like an attack dog. It’s simply establishing the facts.
The impartiality isn’t only to enable the audience to assess for themselves. It’s also to protect your own reputation as an honest, fair inquisitor. Not pushing makes you look like a push over.
And just as you shouldn’t be overly hostile, do not, (however admiring you are of the character in front of you), DO NOT DECLARE YOUR LOVE IN PUBLIC. Who cares what you think anyway? This is nothing to do with you. It is to do with the interviewee. As my much respected Radio One news editor, the late, great, John Hunt, always said, “No-one cares who the interviewer is except the interviewer’s mother”.
A BBC anchor fell foul of this dictat recently in a horrible, cringeworthy, clash of co-incidence. Presenter, Richard Bacon, on his last afternoon show on BBC Radio Five Live,(24.09.2014) told former Daily Mirror Editor, Piers Morgan, (at the beginning of a 30 minute chat, recorded as live), “By the way, this is my last week on Five Live and I just got you on ‘cos I like you and I thought you ‘d be a good guest. I didn’t know you were promoting a book, but I’m very happy for you to promote it” Worse still, it was the day that Trinity Mirror admitted that they were, after all, involved in phone hacking, the first non- Murdoch newspaper to do so, and would settle with some big names out of court. The crucial period was 1995 -2004. Morgan was the editor for much of that time. He has always denied involvement. The recorded interview was interrupted by live news casts bristling with the story. To his credit Bacon did broach the subject of hacking, but how seriously could you take it after that declaration of love? At the end of the interview, it was the same. Morgan is asked what he’s doing next?
PM -…I’m going back to America. Lots of meetings there. I always enjoy that process.
RB-I’m doing some of those as well. shall we hang out?
RB-I’m going to go to LA.
PM-Come to LA
RB-Have you got a home in LA?
PM-Come to LA. Come and swim in my pool
RB-Have you got a pool?
PM-And we’ll do a little interview live from the pool. Where did it all go wrong? By Piers Morgan and Richard Bacon. Live from Hollywood
RB-How about, you can interview me on the TV show you don’t have anymore and I can interview you on the radio show I don’t have any more, by your pool?
PM-I like that idea
RB-We can get slowly drunk
PM-We can drink Sangria and talk nonsense
Is this a “personality interview” so it’s all OK? No. The answer is; it’s an interview. Full stop. Making a date on the radio is a waste of valuable broadcasting time. Ask questions. Be friendly but remember the eleventh commandment. The rule remains – arm’s length is your strength.
About the Author
Janet Trewin is broadcaster, lecturer , media trainer, and author of “Presenting on TV and Radio. An Insider’s Guide”.