Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Little Talks


            Another post, another song title.
            Talking to a college friend a few nights ago, she asked me something simple: “How do you interview people? What questions do you ask them?”
            Part of the reason why I do this blog is to allow readers a glimpse into my job, how a person like me in the media works and thinks.
            This is probably as good an opportunity as ever to explain that.
            The absolute first thing that came to mind about how I interview was one word: “importance.”
            It seems no matter what my interview is for, I’m asking “How important” something is or “What’s the importance” of that.
            Those probably seem like cheap questions, but I like leading interviews off with them. The word “importance” denotes “importance,” even if my question itself is pretty dull.
            When a person hears me ask what is “important” about what they’re doing, why they’re doing something, or where they are, they think a little harder about what they’re saying, look to add some extra pertinence to their words.
            It’s cheating.
            But I don’t mind cheating.
You do what you have to do to win strip poker.
            A tic I noticed that I have is using the phrase, “In regard to…” Whenever I try to direct an interview a certain way, it seems like those words pop out of my mouth.
It probably makes me sound like my thoughts are much more gathered than they are.
However, when interviewing people, on average, my mind is less than calm.
I’m something of a shy person, naturally. As such, walking up to or calling a person I’ve never met before in my life makes me a little nervous.
 STRANGER DANGER....and this sign is definitely a little sideways.
Because of that, when I interview someone, the words that come out of my mouth sound relatively calm, if not slightly disjointed at times.
In my mind…
...Less so.
One of the fun things about this job, though, is when you’re very knowledgeable on a subject that another knows well, too. That’s when my mind is quietest and an interview just becomes an enjoyable conversation.
Of course, however, enjoyable is not the word to describe some interviews.
There are standard questions that go with any interview certain matters, usually the types of things you’d describe as “incidents.” The list of questions takes a little while to remember, and occasionally I’ll forget to ask one or two, but the questions or their spirit change very little for “incidents.”
These usually aren’t the fun interviews, especially if you absolutely need something they absolutely don’t want to tell you.
For those cases, and many others, especially when I’m on the phone, politeness seems to go a long way.
Generally, I’m a good-natured person, I think. As such, I try to be as friendly as I can be in interviews. When you’re with someone that is smiling...
Him
...you’re going to be much more likely to speak to them than that scowling, unshaven guy.
Not him
However, I will admit, sometimes that good-naturedness runs out. I can’t stand it when a source won’t tell me something that everyone obviously already knows. I understand the people that are following the chain of command. They have to protect their jobs.
But I’m not particularly fond of those charged with spinning the news that stall or withhold information that is clear to anyone and everyone.
In one now-infamous moment, I politely thanked the P.R. person that had just blown me off, then slammed the phone and yelled something. I don’t remember exactly what I yelled, but it was completely uncensored and contained at least two f-words, one with a “mother” attached to it, and was capped with “B.S.”
Whatever it was, it was Samuel L. Jackson-esque.
Those frustrations aside, interviewing people can be fun. As I’ve already stated in an earlier blog post, people interest me. And there’s no better way to come across the idiosyncrasies of humanity than to talk with people.
I’ve talked to a fairly wide variety of people, between grieving family members of a shooting victim, lifeguards in 100 degree heat, Lindsay Lohan’s dad and national-level politicians.
My cousin’s son, Owen, who’s 8-years-old, really thinks it’s cool that I interview people for a living.
Almost every time I see him, he asks me to interview him.
I usually oblige, asking him questions like, “Why are you so short?”  and “In regard to the shirt you’re wearing, are the Phillies your favorite team?” and “What is the importance of your little brother’s birthday party?”
What made him so fascinated with my job, with interviewing people, can be traced to one moment: when I told him about the time I interviewed a handful of the Philadelphia Eagles’ cheerleaders for a feature story.
If I interviewed Ryan Howard or Jaromir Jagr, I’m not even sure if he’d be as interested.
 Maybe Spongebob, though. Maybe.
Every time I see Owen, before he asks me to interview him, he grins and asks if I’ve “talked to any cheerleaders lately.”
As such, outside of being a pro baseball player, I have an 8-year-old boy’s dream job. I don’t think that’s so bad.

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