Lessons learned when tables turned

Opinion Sep 17, 2014 by Gordon Cameron Hamilton Mountain News

As a journalist, I’ve done hundreds, if not thousands of interviews. I’ve read books about interviewing, studied the masters of the craft and eavesdropped on colleagues while they were questioning sources. I may be no Steve Paikin, but I get by.

Given this familiarity it can be easy to forget that there’s another side to the interview process — that of the interviewee.

In truth, I hadn’t really given much thought to what it’s like to be answering the questions rather than asking them. After all, it seemed fairly straightforward: I ask, they answer them based on what they know. What could be simpler?

Or so I thought.

I was recently interviewed by Leonard Turnevicius for an article in the Spectator on the retirement of Don Allan as musical director of the Burlington Concert Band. Turnevicius wrote a great article and was quite professional throughout the interview, but as he was asking me his questions I found my brain split in two different directions: one answering the questions asked (my interviewee brain), and the other critiquing those same answers (my journalist brain).

My journalist brain was quiet during the basic background questions that usually start most interviews for feature articles. But once  he got into the meat of his questions, my journalist brain sprung into action.

“You’re rambling incoherently,” I remember it thinking at one point. “Focus.”

“That’s a horrible answer,” it thought again. “He’s never going to be able to use any of that.”

While the assessment of the job my interviewee brain was doing may seem a little harsh and even self-defeating, there was no doubt in any part of my mind that I was tanking.

I like to think that I pulled it together in the end and was able to give Turnevicius enough that I didn’t completely waste his time. However, I was so concerned that I’d badly botched one of my key anecdotes (which featured prominently in the final article) that I ended up sending him a version of it that I had written years ago for another event just so I wouldn’t come off like an idiot in print.

All of which brings me back to what I’ve learned about interviewing by being on the other side:

1. It’s not as easy as it you think. I was being interviewed about a topic I know well and had many interesting things to say about, but during the interview itself I found myself blithering for no apparent reason. (I’m actually quite articulate, really.)

2. Stuff happens. I had spent a good amount of time thinking about what I would say, but just before the interview was scheduled I got mentally pulled away to deal with something else and never fully got my focus back. Had I been fully focused, I’d like to think I’d be writing a very different column.

3. There’s a reason that I’m not in PR. I think I’ll stick to asking the questions rather than becoming a professional spokesperson.

Gordon Cameron is Group Managing Editor for Hamilton Community News.

Lessons learned when tables turned

Opinion Sep 17, 2014 by Gordon Cameron Hamilton Mountain News

As a journalist, I’ve done hundreds, if not thousands of interviews. I’ve read books about interviewing, studied the masters of the craft and eavesdropped on colleagues while they were questioning sources. I may be no Steve Paikin, but I get by.

Given this familiarity it can be easy to forget that there’s another side to the interview process — that of the interviewee.

In truth, I hadn’t really given much thought to what it’s like to be answering the questions rather than asking them. After all, it seemed fairly straightforward: I ask, they answer them based on what they know. What could be simpler?

Or so I thought.

I was recently interviewed by Leonard Turnevicius for an article in the Spectator on the retirement of Don Allan as musical director of the Burlington Concert Band. Turnevicius wrote a great article and was quite professional throughout the interview, but as he was asking me his questions I found my brain split in two different directions: one answering the questions asked (my interviewee brain), and the other critiquing those same answers (my journalist brain).

My journalist brain was quiet during the basic background questions that usually start most interviews for feature articles. But once  he got into the meat of his questions, my journalist brain sprung into action.

“You’re rambling incoherently,” I remember it thinking at one point. “Focus.”

“That’s a horrible answer,” it thought again. “He’s never going to be able to use any of that.”

While the assessment of the job my interviewee brain was doing may seem a little harsh and even self-defeating, there was no doubt in any part of my mind that I was tanking.

I like to think that I pulled it together in the end and was able to give Turnevicius enough that I didn’t completely waste his time. However, I was so concerned that I’d badly botched one of my key anecdotes (which featured prominently in the final article) that I ended up sending him a version of it that I had written years ago for another event just so I wouldn’t come off like an idiot in print.

All of which brings me back to what I’ve learned about interviewing by being on the other side:

1. It’s not as easy as it you think. I was being interviewed about a topic I know well and had many interesting things to say about, but during the interview itself I found myself blithering for no apparent reason. (I’m actually quite articulate, really.)

2. Stuff happens. I had spent a good amount of time thinking about what I would say, but just before the interview was scheduled I got mentally pulled away to deal with something else and never fully got my focus back. Had I been fully focused, I’d like to think I’d be writing a very different column.

3. There’s a reason that I’m not in PR. I think I’ll stick to asking the questions rather than becoming a professional spokesperson.

Gordon Cameron is Group Managing Editor for Hamilton Community News.

Lessons learned when tables turned

Opinion Sep 17, 2014 by Gordon Cameron Hamilton Mountain News

As a journalist, I’ve done hundreds, if not thousands of interviews. I’ve read books about interviewing, studied the masters of the craft and eavesdropped on colleagues while they were questioning sources. I may be no Steve Paikin, but I get by.

Given this familiarity it can be easy to forget that there’s another side to the interview process — that of the interviewee.

In truth, I hadn’t really given much thought to what it’s like to be answering the questions rather than asking them. After all, it seemed fairly straightforward: I ask, they answer them based on what they know. What could be simpler?

Or so I thought.

I was recently interviewed by Leonard Turnevicius for an article in the Spectator on the retirement of Don Allan as musical director of the Burlington Concert Band. Turnevicius wrote a great article and was quite professional throughout the interview, but as he was asking me his questions I found my brain split in two different directions: one answering the questions asked (my interviewee brain), and the other critiquing those same answers (my journalist brain).

My journalist brain was quiet during the basic background questions that usually start most interviews for feature articles. But once  he got into the meat of his questions, my journalist brain sprung into action.

“You’re rambling incoherently,” I remember it thinking at one point. “Focus.”

“That’s a horrible answer,” it thought again. “He’s never going to be able to use any of that.”

While the assessment of the job my interviewee brain was doing may seem a little harsh and even self-defeating, there was no doubt in any part of my mind that I was tanking.

I like to think that I pulled it together in the end and was able to give Turnevicius enough that I didn’t completely waste his time. However, I was so concerned that I’d badly botched one of my key anecdotes (which featured prominently in the final article) that I ended up sending him a version of it that I had written years ago for another event just so I wouldn’t come off like an idiot in print.

All of which brings me back to what I’ve learned about interviewing by being on the other side:

1. It’s not as easy as it you think. I was being interviewed about a topic I know well and had many interesting things to say about, but during the interview itself I found myself blithering for no apparent reason. (I’m actually quite articulate, really.)

2. Stuff happens. I had spent a good amount of time thinking about what I would say, but just before the interview was scheduled I got mentally pulled away to deal with something else and never fully got my focus back. Had I been fully focused, I’d like to think I’d be writing a very different column.

3. There’s a reason that I’m not in PR. I think I’ll stick to asking the questions rather than becoming a professional spokesperson.

Gordon Cameron is Group Managing Editor for Hamilton Community News.