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Now the Details

Media, ethics, and journalism. What works. What doesn't.

Jeffrey Dvorkin

Sunday, November 22, 2009

"That's A Good Question"

Too often, media interviews reveal that no actual listening is going on.

The best interviews are ones where there is actually some sort of engaged dialogue between journalist and guest. The dialogue leads (or should lead) to a sense of discovery by both parties. The journalist actually learns something that the research doesn't mention; the interviewee learns something new about his/her work.

Most journalistic interviews are conducted in a way that the outcome is pre-determined. In the case of Sarah Palin on the Oprah Winfrey Show, there were no real traps, no delicious examples of "gotcha" journalism. But both Palin and Winfrey stayed with their own talking points, while hoping that the other would appear to have "lost" the battle of wits.

On CBC Radio's The Sunday Edition today, regular host Michael Enright (one of the best in the business) was replaced for today by Kevin Sylvester, a young and talented radio host who showed much promise when I knew him at the CBC ten years ago. Today, that promise seemed to be realized. Kevin is also a brilliant sketch artist and children's book author. Clearly a man of many qualities.

Sylvester did a lengthy interview with journalist and professor Ben Yagoda, author of a recent book entitled "Memoir." I haven't read it, but after Sylvester's conversation, I plan to. The book is about the why of memoir writing and especially why there is much self-confessional journalism at this time. Sylvester was erudite (referring to Rousseau and the differences between Catholic and Protestant "mémoiristes") but he did it without being showy. The research was solid, but not intrusive.

Yagoda was clearly impressed with the range of Sylvester's knowledge and both host and guest clearly share a sense of humor. I counted four times when Yagoda paused to say "That's a good question..." The interview could have been dry and arcane. It was anything but, because both parties were clearly engaged.

I think the reason for that is because Sylvester knows that the secret to good interviewing is listening. There were moments when I sensed that Sylvester just tossed the script and the research aside so he could engage in his own curiosity and not that of the producer. It takes a nice level of confidence to do that.

It was an amazing bit of radio and showed a remarkable intellectual curiosity to create some memorable radio around the art of the memoir.

You can listen to it here, for yourself.

1 comment:

  1. The other thing -- Sylvester did his homework, something that Pagoda also noted.

    Kevin Sylvester doesn't appeal to me tremendously as a broadcaster - something just doesn't click in that intangible way between host and listener - but he is a thorough interviewer.