Applied Storytelling — how science provides solutions into journalism and storytelling forms.
Welcome to the school of Applied Storytelling where we deconstruct and reveal storytelling practices. Today is the journalism interview.
Framed by copious theory and practical output it’s supposed to eke out answers in a way a non-professional would not achieve. But something in this day and age is not quite right.
Have you noticed how it works? Before an interview with an official is the small chat. The journalist might ask his camera operator are we rolling. Yes she replies and then the reporter goes into earnest tone (if you’re lucky) with a measured, seemingly difficult question. There’s no hint of incredulity at the reply, as their training from another era, repeated today, has to give the perception of detachment and avoidance of being personally invested. That’s one of the major disconnects between the journalist and the viewer/ listener.
In part this emerges because of the professional class and civility officials and generally journalists occupy. How do you resolve this? Greater representation and diversity. Do you remember the Trevor Phillips’s Norman Tebbit interview about whether the government minister would welcome someone like Phillips living next to him.
Generally the execs in journalism ignore this: a reporter is a reporter, but the storyteller/ interviewer (their background) matter, absolutely!
Back to the interview. The official doesn’t answer the question. Media training and game theory has provided the official an edge. Journalism meanwhile has found few answers. It goes something like this.
1. Choose an entry point into your answer that does not repeat the journalist’s question. This masks any culpability or blame.
2. Keep repeating you point. If you’re talking over each other, persist. The journalist will have to give way.
3. If you don’t like the journalist’s question/ statement, simply say: “well I don’t agree with that…”, a Cameron /Osbourne speciality. Make your point again. The interview will last only a couple of minutes.
You, the viewer, meanwhile are screaming at the television or radio, or dumbfounded by this illogical audacity. Take this: removing Bankers cap during an energy crisis will swiftly help the struggling and those on low income. It’s irrational, and actually should be ridiculed, but as a professional journalist that would be unprofessional of you, wouldn’t it? Watch Femi deconstruct this perverse logic.
What then do large swathes of journalism do, because as a thought experiment, if you were to remove professional journalists from these kinds of assignments would the viewer be any worse off?
In the medium to long term, radically change the training regimes and learning for future journalists. Just as the BBC Director General John Birt in the 80s/ 90s introduced “Mission to Explain” to improve the audience’s understanding of issues (not universally well received) , there should be a “Mission to get rid of the Performance”. The interview in many ways is a performance. It’s artificial, and if you’re unsure of this eavesdrop on a journalist after an interview when they say things like, “Well he didn’t answer my question”.
In the short term, get into the habit of revealing the 4th wall. You saw this in play in Eminem’s 8 Miles. By pre-empting any potential answer, you devalue the official’s response. If you’re in doubt sit down with a behavioural psychologist. Asking the obvious question in an obvious way plays right into the hands of officials. Engage more with viewers asking questions
At 1.54 the interview rebuffs the claim of doing politics? D’you remember the Diana Gould interview with Thatcher. The PM did not like this.
Applied Storytelling facilitates looking at storytelling/ journalism/ documentaries from a myriad of existing and new positions, just as an Applied Chemist would. My background also envelops Art ( Artist in Residence at the Southbank Centre) and journalism.
Subscribe to this feed, so I can keep you updated on story forms. Last week I produced a doodle for a talk I was due to give on Climate stories, which turned into this.