Friday, June 17, 2005

A note on blog interviews

Posted by Craig Westover | 10:41 AM |  

Over at Bogus Gold, Doug comments on the interview at Kennedy v. The Machine that First Ringer conducts with newly elected MN GOP Deputy Chair Eric Hoplin. He notes that the "We hate Hoplin's guts" crowd is disappointed that Ringer didn't pull some kind of 60 minutes sting-style interview, hammering Hoplin with all their favorite accusations. Doug writes --
Since the vast majority of KvM's readers have no idea who Eric Hoplin is, the purpose of Ringer's interview is to introduce him to the readership. It's not to carry on lingering vendettas against him from those who didn't want to see him elected Deputy Chair.
It’s a point well-taken. I’ve done three blog interviews (Taxpayer’s League President David Strom, former Education Commissioner and 6th District Congressional candidate Cheri Yecke and University of Minnesota professor Dale Carpenter on same-sex marriage) and heard the same complaints.

Expanding on Doug’s comments, here is a model for interviews that critics ought to keep in mind. There are basically three types of interviews.

The first type of interview is informational. The subject of the interview is an expert, and the interviewer trying to draw out information about a particular topic. The only importance of the interviewee is that he or she has the information. Another source, equally knowledgeable, would serve as well.

The second type of interview is the 60-Minutes type, which is an interrogation. The interviewer has certain “facts” that he or she wants the interviewee to confirm or deny. The interviewer wants to get the interviewee on record with a firm denial or caught in an admission.

The third, and this is where a blog interview fits, is a personality interview. The interviewer is not out after “facts.” Rather the interviewer tries to reveal the personality of the subject through his ideas (Strom and Yecke) or provide the interviewee’s unique perspective on an issue (Carpenter).

The latter is not an interrogation. The technique that is most successful is making the interviewee feel comfortable so that he or she often reveals more than they would in a confrontational situation. The interviewer challenges points made, but as questions, not accusations. The interviewer brings a point of view to the interview that is reflected in questions and challenges, but doesn’t allow his or her personal feelings to create a debate rather than an interview. At some point, the interviewer lets the interviewee “win” and moves on.

A good interviewer will preface or conclude the actual posting of the interview with impressions that set the context. The interviewer is the reader’s representative at the interview and is therefore not only the readers ears (as reported in the interview transcript) but the reader’s eyes as well -- reporting details that enhance the spoken words.

The last style of interview is much harder to do well, but in most instance, far more revealing than a confrontational 60-Minutes style.