How far to press

In Spring 010 on April 18, 2010 at 5:36 pm

As the semester comes to a close, it’s time to get reflective.

One issue I deal with is invasion of privacy: how much am I really willing to penetrate someone else’s personal space, physically and mentally?

I think journalism does serve a watchdog purpose though I completely disagree with the fearmongering that usually goes along with most of these stories.

But then there’s just digging to get the information you know is there. Often when covering a subject that is underexposed, they are more than happy to tell you every single insignificant detail, which you can weave into a lovely story.

When covering a subject that’s more exposed, things get a little trickier. Since I’ve been on a music kick this week, we’ll take music journalism.

Fans obviously are quick to judge an interviewer they feel is not connecting with or respecting the object of their adoration. So then, what makes a good interviewer?

One of my friends is actually really good at it. First of all, he is unassuming. He’s not intimidating and makes the people feel comfortable. He also usually has interesting questions and different question formats, like a fill-in-blank, which can be awesome in the right forum. And these questions don’t dominate the conversation to fight with the subject for attention or confuse the listener. They are pretty simple.

Rick Bragg, an award-winning print journalist, said people open up to him because they think he’s stupid. With his relaxed, chubby demeanor and Southern drawl, people think he’s safe, according to Foley.

Personally, I try a little too hard to make my subject comfortable my constantly smiling and nodding, which just comes across as manic. I can also ask long questions, which though I feel they are thought-provoking, either confuse my subject or would leave the listener wonder what the ef I’m talking about.

There’s also the personal hang-up of “Do I really want to ask this question? Do I really want to go there?”

So here’s what to do about this: practice. I’m doing a video project this week, which will require interview skills, and I’m going to keep the points above in mind. Simple. Relaxed. Interested.

The invasive issue is really a judgment call for each story. I think a lot depends on rapport and how important it is to the reader. In a business setting, tough questions often need to be asking, but it’s all professional. In an entertainment setting, things are a little more sensitive and completely rely on rapport. Though being a dick can get interesting fodder, the subject would really have to irritate me and deserve it for me to go there, I think.

As far as biographies go, because I’m musing about my future and I think I’d like to write one of these, I think unauthorized biographies are akin to rape. Basically stealing a little or a large piece of someone’s soul.

Authorized biographies are another beast depending on your involvement with the subject. Mother or dead historical figure. Obviously, one is going to be a lot more emotionally charged in the other, in most cases.

Definitely interested in feedback on the privacy issue.



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