Journalist gains perspective from other side of interview

By Paul Lepisto The 1968 song “Both Sides Now,” written by Joni Mitchell and sung by Judy Collins, includes the lyric, “I’ve looked at life from both sides now.” That line can also be used to describe my perspective of interviews.    I interviewed people for nearly 30 years, 18 of those when I was fortunate enough to work as the producer for Tony Dean for his “Tony Dean Outdoors” television and “Dakota Backroads” radio programs. I have conducted interviews for radio, TV and print. But now, in my position with the Izaak Walton League of America, I find myself as the one occasionally being interviewed. So I am looking at an interview from the other side now, and I have made some interesting observations.    Over the last year I have been interviewed by reporters representing print, radio and TV, from both mainstream and the outdoor media. There has been one thing I have noticed: At times during an interview the interviewer goes blank. This could be a reflection on my answers, but more likely it is because the interviewer didn’t understand what I was telling him (or her).   I work for the IWLA as a regional conservation coordinator, focusing primarily on the Missouri River, so at times I’m talking about some complicated issues. Some of those include the endangered or invasive species in and along the river, as well as other river management issues. Instead of asking a follow- up question for clarification, I’ve had the interviewer stammer and stumble and ask another – usually unrelated – question to get out of the situation and on with the interview. Afterwards I’ve wondered: If the interviewer doesn’t understand a topic he or she asked me about, how will the readers, listeners or viewers? Especially if there aren’t any follow- up questions to try and clarify the topic in the interviewer’s mind.    None of these interviews I’m referring to were “live,” so there was always time to digress and to discuss a topic further, but it seemed that the interviewer didn’t want to admit he or she didn’t understand the issue and just wanted to move along. There’s no shame in telling someone during an interview that you don’t understand what was just said, or to follow up with something like, “Can you tell me more about that?”    That technique allows the person being interviewed to go into further detail about the topic, and with just a quick follow-up question you will most likely get the clarification you need. Remember, you are asking the questions your reader, listener or viewer would ask if they were there.    Also, if the person you are interviewing uses technical terms or acronyms, have the person explain what they mean; your audience or readers may not understand the terms used.    So don’t hesitate to ask a follow-up question or get clarification on anything you don’t understand in any interviews you are doing. Sometimes a follow-up question to clarify something can open up a whole new idea for another program or a future article. Your readers, listeners and viewers will appreciate it, and so will those of us who have looked at the interview from both sides now.   Paul Lepisto lives in Pierre, S.D., and works for the Izaak Walton League of America in South Dakota, Iowa and Nebraska. He’s been an OWAA member since 1992. [print_link]

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