Interviews With Interviewers… About Interviewing (2003 edit)

This tape features a 2003 edit of "Interviews With Interviewers... About Interviewing" by Skip Blumberg. High profile interviewers Mike Wallace, Barbara Walters, Studs Terkel, and Susan Stamberg talk about their own specific interviewing styles, the complexities of the interview process, and why they do what they do. We also hear from psychoanalyst Dr. Joel Kovel and police interrogator Sean Grennan about their skills as interviewers and how they interact with interview subjects. Blumberg gets very honest responses (a tribute to his own interviewing skills) and manages to provide a fascinating look at why we like interviews, how they differ from normal conversations, and the psychological impact on both parties.

00:00Copy video clip URL Black, title screen.

00:24Copy video clip URL Program intro. Each interview subject defines the many different types of interviewing. Blumberg appears on screen to introduce the program. “In this program you’ll see interviews with six expert interviewers; interviews that I did in their offices with this camera on my shoulder.”

00:55Copy video clip URL Dissolve into a shot of Mike Wallace who asks Blumberg if he’s rolling. Wallace introduces himself and talks about what he uses interviewing for. “I use interviewing to elicit information to help understand character and personality.” We then watch as each interview subject introduces him or herself. Walters labels herself as a “television journalist.” Grennan talks about his use of interviewing in criminal investigations. Terkel labels himself as a “disc jockey who talks a lot.”  Kovel says that his work is “essentially interviewing.” The group expands on the subject in great detail.

02:24Copy video clip URL Kovel says, “It’s more listening than speaking… Interviewing is the art of listening.” Terkel talks about his excitement of the exchange and that there is a give and take to interviewing.

02:53Copy video clip URL Blumberg asks Stamberg about her conversational interview style and the difference between interviews and conversations. Stamberg states that she tries to create the illusion of a conversation taking place during an interview. Terkel labels interviewing as a “jazz kind of conversation. … There’s a discipline to it.” Grennan states that interrogation is used to determine guilt while interviewing. Stamberg talks about the logical progression of interviewing.

04:22Copy video clip URL Blumberg asks Walters about the dynamic and excitement of interviewing. Walters states that interviewing takes a kind of choreography. “There is a point in an interview… where something goes ‘bing’ and you know that you’ve got something special.”

05:30Copy video clip URL Kovel talks about the feeling of making contact with another person and says that it is similar to being with a friend. Terkel then talks about his excitement and interest in his interview subjects. He talks about the absurdity of the cut and dry, run of the mill interviews on TV. Walters states that one can interview people that he or she doesn’t like or doesn’t agree with.

06:50Copy video clip URL Blumberg asks Stamberg why audiences like interviews. Elated by the question, Stamberg states that in the course of an interview, she’s not “spoon feeding” information to the audience in comparison to a straight news report. Walters talks about people’s fascination with the way others live.

07:57Copy video clip URL Wallace states, “It is a form of learning about others and ourselves through others, and about the movers and shakers of the world who move and shake us around.” Walters states that “we all do interviews every day.” Stamberg goes on to say that she is a lot like other people, and if something were to make her curious about an interview subject, odds are it will be of interest to the audience as well. She sees herself as an “extension or surrogate for the audience.”

09:32Copy video clip URL Terkel states that he’s not interested in what the audience is interested in. “I assume the audience has the same interest I have, the same basic interest in finding out about some aspect of life or about a person who has influenced or changed our lives for better or for worse. And so I’m never going to say ‘I’m going to do what the audience likes.’ I’m going to do it because I like it, and I just assume they will.” Blumberg then asks Wallace about his abrasive interview style. “If you’re going to do a job, you’d like people to pay attention to what you do in that job and how to separate yourself from the rest… I little by little found that by doing, conducting, interviews in a certain way I was able to separate myself, let’s say from some other interviewers and they would pay attention to me.” When asked how he did this, Wallace states, “Insistence, thorough research, willingness to ask and re-ask, a certain irreverence, occasionally a certain abrasiveness… and all of those things apparently struck a nerve in the audience who got the feeling that, ‘you know, this guys really trying to find out for us.'” Walters and Stamberg both say that they don’t quite know how they developed their style but that they have learned what works over their career. Koval states that interviewing is an “expression of yourself.” Walters then states that she enjoys writing and never intended to be in front of a camera. She then talks about her work in television and her development as an interviewer. “You know what’s important? I guess not being that interested in yourself, being more interested in the person.” Kovel says that interviewers try to mirror their subjects so that they can “exist for them at that moment.” Stamberg emphasizes the importance of listening. She states that questions lie in a person’s answers. Grennan talks about the instinct in knowing if someone is lying or telling the truth. Each of them talk about the skills necessary to successfully interview a person. Kovel brings up the topic of empathy and states that everyone is capable of feeling what another person is feeling and that it develops in infancy. He labels it as “pre-verbal socialization.” “It’s a feeling for the music rather than the words… you hear the words as music.” Grennan then talks about the trust that builds up during interrogation. He talks about the nervous actions he sees when certain people are interrogated.

18:02Copy video clip URL Terkel talks about the satisfying aspects of interviews. Each person gives their definition of a successful interview. Stamberg states that a successful interview encompasses a few answers that no other interviewer has gotten. Wallace describes his interpretation of a successful interview and points out that he’s never been interviewed by a person who handles their own camera. Blumberg then says that Wallace can look at him instead of the camera. Wallace then says, “The most satisfying interview is the one in which you believe that you have gotten the interviewee to forget all about the mechanics and people simply begin to talk, one to the other. You’ve now forgotten the studio, the technicians, the other people there, the lights, the cameras, and you’re simply talking. The good interviewer in my estimation is the one that can do that effectively.” This lasts for several minutes.

20:22Copy video clip URL Blumberg asks Stamberg how she can really get to know an interviewee in such a short time. “I can never get to know a person in that short time, and it’s one of the greatest frustrations of my work.” She talks about the constricting aspects of interviewing for broadcast. Terkel states that there is an “explosive phrase” within an interview that can really reach the depths of a person. Kovel states that no one is good enough to get to the essence of someone’s being during an interview. This lasts for several minutes.

22:16Copy video clip URL Wallace talks about his half-hour interview with Ayatollah Khomeini during the Iran hostage crisis. Wallace talks about a question in which the Ayatollah showed emotion, the only time in the entire interview. Wallace goes on to compliment Barbara Walters on her interview quality and being able to truly reach a person. Walters then talks about coming to know people through interviewing. “When we do these specials, we don’t pay people, we have to hope that they come on because this is their chance to reveal themselves. This is their chance to set the record straight… It’s a way of their saying ‘this is how I am.'” Walters then talks about some of her interviewing techniques and the types of questions she asks her subjects.

26:55Copy video clip URL Grennan talks about his interviewing techniques. He talks about the need for research on the person’s past dealings. Wallace states that he uses the “good cop, bad cop” routine. Grennan goes on to say, “Sometimes you have to do what might not be considered right to a certain extent to get information out of people.” The interviewers continue to talk about their many interviewing techniques. This lasts for several minutes.

30:29Copy video clip URL Wallace talks about the possibility of invading an interviewee’s privacy. He talks about the need to be accepted by an interviewee and the notion of ambush interviewing. Grennan talks about his limits during interrogation. Wallace then talks about the rules and guidelines of interviewing. “Be fair. Be fair. Be accurate. Be careful.” He then talks about the importance of editing and how it can skew the truth. Terkel talks about his editing techniques. Walters talks about the color and warmth that doesn’t appear in certain interviews due to editing. Terkel refers to an editor as a “brain surgeon” and describes the need to highlight the truth and make it even clearer through getting the essence of what someone says during an interview. He states that the interview sequence is arbitrary. Terkel has never had one person complain about their stories being distorted or changed in his books.

35:44Copy video clip URL Blumberg asks Walters if she’s committed to a religious belief, philosophy, or politics that relate to her professional goals. She states that she just enjoys her work and wants nothing else but to carry it out. Grennan talks about his goal for justice and the challenging aspects of homicide investigations. Kovel says that his work is part of deconstructing the ego and raising the inner self to a higher level. Wallace states that he follows the “golden rule.” He also says that he would like his job to be useful. “I would like to move the dialogue ahead just a little bit, and in certain ways, in a very small way, I think that in twenty-five, thirty years of doing what I’ve been doing that perhaps on the issue of civil rights, my work has been a little bit helpful. Perhaps in the Middle East, the work that I’ve done has been a little bit helpful.” Terkel then talks about the viewpoint of not rocking the boat or making waves and makes a joke about Ronald Reagan loving those viewpoints. Wallace then talks about his work and civil rights. He goes on to address a racist remark he made on camera. Wallace talks about how the criticism makes him feel. He says that criticism comes with the territory and then condemns his racist statement and says that it was wrong to say. “If you are in the public eye, whether you will it or not, you’re in the public eye and and they’re going to take whacks at you.” He goes on to say that if you are an honorable individual and you like what you do, then you have to understand that there will be good times and bad times, and that you need to develop a thick skin. He then states that reporters are a notoriously thin skinned crowd, including himself.

42:51Copy video clip URL Terkel talks about the craziness in gaining something valuable from his interview subjects, but that you can’t keep something intimate from everyone he interviews. “There is a detached concern…and it’s that aspect in interviewing somebody, you find out something… It’s detached and attached… It’s that combination that I think is what it’s all about… You’re part of the species that person is part of but you’re not suffering what that person’s suffering. No matter what you say, you’re not.”

44:50Copy video clip URL Blumberg ask Stamberg about the number of interviews she’s done. Stamberg and Terkel state that curiosity is what drives them. Blumberg goes on to ask Stamberg about the origins of curiosity. Stamberg states that she has a very child-like quality when it comes to her curiosity and emphasizes the need to follow her instinct when it comes to interviewing. She talks about asking a symphony conductor if his arms ever get tired, which was a surprisingly successful question. Kovel goes on to talk about his own curiosity about people. He then states that curiosity stems from sex and states that humans may not be as curious as they are if they weren’t driven by sex.

49:37Copy video clip URL Terkel talks about his thought on curiosity. “If you lose your curiosity you might as well take the gas pipe. Curiosity may have killed the cat but keeps me going.” Stamberg refers to broadcasting as a creative process and that she doesn’t feel like a voyeur when interviewing. Walters says that she is a participant while she interviews.

50:37Copy video clip URL Blumberg then asks each interviewer if there are any questions they would like to ask him. Wallace, Terkel, and Walters ask Blumberg a few questions before Stamberg asks him if his shoulder is getting tired. Shortly afterward, the credits begin to roll.

51:58Copy video clip URL Tape ends.



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