19 Mar Journalism101: The Dreaded Question
Listening to old interviews this morning and heard one that made me chuckle.
Had been talking to the person for an hour. And quite abruptly, he said, “Can I ask you a question?”
First of all, I know from experience that if someone asks you if they can ask you a question, your answer should be NO.
So I was leery. But of course I said, “yes….”
The person said, “What’s the slant of this interview?”
My mouth went dry.
I hate when the subject asks this question. It immediately puts me on the offense.
What’s my slant?! I don’t know!
But the truth is, that’s a lie. I always go into an interview with a slant. I know exactly what I’m looking for and I ask questions to get what I want. I’ve never interviewed someone without a preconceived slant in my head. Particularly if they are an established celebrity.
There’s a certain level of manipulation and dishonesty that is a natural part of the interview process that some writers don’t want to talk about. The truth is, particularly when it comes to celebrities, we have to bring a dish of phony to the table. We have to smile. We have to be nice. We have to compliment records we don’t really like. We have to make the subject feel comfortable enough to give us juicy quotes.
So when the subject says, what’s your angle? I get all haughty. Angle?! Me? How dare you! I’m looking for truth and an honest conversation.
I always have an angle.
Sidebar: This only pertains to celebrities. I don’t feel this way when interviewing “regular” folks or not-too-famous-yet celebrities who are still down to earth and accessible.
I’m also much more likely to have an angle if I know my time with the subject will be brief. If someone gives me a week to tag along, I will not have an angle. I will just see what I see.
But if I have an hour in a conference room. Or worse yet, twenty minutes on the phone while a publicist is listening in, hell yeah I’m gonna have an angle. And my questions will reflect that. (And sometimes, I am given an angle by my editor with no choice in the matter. That’s rare. But it does happen.)
But of course, I can’t admit to any of that. I can’t say: Yes, my angle is that you’ve always lived in the shadow of your mother-sister-wife-husband-producer and now you are scared you can’t make it on your own. Or whatever. That will taint the fake purity of the interview.
I’ve always wondered how other writers handle this. I know in my case, it makes for awkward pauses in interviews. (For this reason, and a few others, I want ALL my interview tapes burned when I die. You hear that TH, Tog and TG? Burn them!)
Ask a writer. If they say they don’t cringe when they listen to themselves on tape, they are LYING.)
dear readers, do you think you could interview a celebrity and be dead-ass serious about how you feel about them, (and their craft), and still get a decent interview? Do you have a certain amount of phony you have to bring to the table in your own jobs? Tell me about it. And for my writer friends, please co-sign. Tell me I’m not the only one bringing at least a tiny bit of fakeness to the interview table. And I’m not the only writer who always goes in with an angle…am I? (*gulp*)
I’d love to hear from you…
Oh! And a prize to the first reader who can tell me who is asking me the dreaded question in this clip… And peep how I straight up LIE to homeboy. Me? An angle? Never!