Wednesday, May 12, 2010

"Excellent" in Spite of Myself.

Yesterday afternoon I had a phone interview. But I was the interviewer, and not the interviewee. I am probably one of the few people that gets more anxious about giving interviews than I do about being interviewed. I could be interviewed by almost anyone and not feel too poorly about it for long. But when I have to give the interview, I get somewhat stressed.

Which is a little odd, because I've never been bad at doing it. I've even been complimented on my work. (More on that in a moment.) But still I quite dislike interviewing people under most circumstances. I continue to look inside myself to figure out why this is. I don't have a solid answer yet, but I am sure it is a mixture of things, not the least of which is a subconscious perception that I am wasting someone's time.

So combine this with a few other extenuating circumstances. The fact that I hate using the phone, period. That the interview was for a magazine piece I am writing that I did not select; I was asked by an editor with whom I have worked before to fill a last minute gap in the publication. And my overall fatigue at the time. It should be clear why I was keyed up for a while before hand.

I didn't want to lay out the interview too specifically before I called, because I felt that could make it even worse by being too formulaic. The key to a good interview is to make it a conversation, and I was determined to do so. I don't want to interrogate people, or launch an endless survey at someone over the phone. Because this isn't a hard news piece I could afford to be more informal.

The subject has her own website, which I had read before hand. It contained all of the details, numbers and contact information that was relevant. The hard facts. I therefore saw little reason to ask her all of these things during the interview. I was determined to ask about more of the intangibles pertaining to her story, and that's just what I did.

Obviously I can't get into details about who I talked to or what I asked because it is a piece for someone else that has yet to be published. Suffice to say I figured my questions were rather natural lines of inquiry, but outside the realm of the website.

She seemed busy at first, and a little rushed, but after my first question she actually slowed down a bit and sounded more mellow. She proceeded to give me some good answers and very useful quotations. 15 minutes or so later I had what I needed for the piece. I thanked the subject, and wished her good luck on her endeavors. As soon as I said that, I started to come down a bit, knowing it was nearly over.

At that point, the interviewee made a point of thanking me. She told me that of all the people that have interviewed her about her situation, I had asked the most thought provoking questions on the subject matter, and it allowed her to discuss aspects of her story that she generally did not get to talk about to other writers and reporters. She was genuinely grateful.

As was I. She didn't have to say those things, but she chose to. I was also surprised. For while my questions were designed to be less statistical, I didn't think I had been so refreshingly probing to her. I assumed that while my questions lie outside the norm, others must have asked similar question of her at some point in time. (Many others have interviewed her about her story, according to her website.) But not so.

So as usual I spent about a half an hour coming down from the stress of having to conduct such an interview. But this time around it was with a certain satisfaction that I had gone above and beyond what most writers do when pursuing a piece. It confirmed that my commitment to excellence in my writing is not affected by my (possibly) neurotic tendency to stress about interviews.

Not bad for someone that's a bit Too XYZ, am I right?

2 comments:

Jake LaCaze said...

It's funny how wrong we can be in our assumptions and perceptions.

Erik said...

Excellent job, Ty. This is also one of my least favorite parts about writing, and one of the reasons I love FiF is that an interview isn't always 100% necessary.
One of my big problems is trying to keep up with taking notes as I talk to the person and I always feel kind of awkward when I ask them to pause for a moment while I catch up. In person interviews are much easier because I can use my digital recorder and just focus on our conversation. The only draw back is that sometimes a recorder makes people more nervous than a notepad, but that seems to be less of an issue with FiF interviews than it was for my reporting days. I think it's because for the most part I only do stories on people who are extremely used to talking about their endeavors and I give them more than enough time to prepare.