The craft of interviewing

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I studied the craft of interviewing some years ago and particularly got to understand the work of a Canadian — a former Vancouverite, actually — who I knew in Ottawa and who went on to teach it at the world’s largest, most commercially successful specialty television network, ESPN.

John Sawatsky had an impressive method to research through interviewing. It is asserted that 90% of our journalism is produced through the interview. John taught the various stages of investigation — who to call first, how to structure those conversations, how to escalate the research up the organizational line to reach an accountable event.

But what I also know is that in broadcasting his methodical approach isn’t on. Instead of gradually opening up an interview subject with ever-increasing questions of intensity, on the air you have to approach each moment as intense. There is no time to build trust; you are hoping that trust immediately exists.

The performance interview is different than the research interview, and I’ve had to relearn some of what I used to do on television for the radio setting. I’ve had well more than 2,000 guests on the Roundhouse shows I’ve hosted, so I’m getting a combination of practice and refinement.

Mainly what’s important to me — and, I think, to the guests — is that I’m listening and not necessarily pursuing an agenda of questions. I have some set aside, but usually I find that they’re unnecessary. Our guests are great and they guide the show. My best role is to facilitate, challenge when needed, but largely get them to bring their stories forward.

Love to do it.