The Definition of a Bad Interview

The Miami Heat’s shellacking of the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday night brought back painful memories of how LeBron James landed in Miami in the first place. He announced that he would sign with the Heat on “The Decision,” the nationally televised ESPN show created just for the event.

But what my mind always goes back to is not James’ final words, but instead, the interview that led up to it during this so-called “show.” Reporter Jim Gray and James sat in movie director-type chairs a few feet from each other. If ever there is an instructional guide how NOT to conduct an interview, this is it. Gray did an awful job. It’s hard to put into words how bad it was, but I’ll do my best.

Gray made the whole situation feel more awkward then it already was. I can’t imagine being in Cleveland watching Gray butcher the interview, and then on top of that hear James say that he is “taking his talents to South Beach.” This was a big sports topic of the summer. In fact, sports news doesn’t get much bigger than this, and heading into it I would have expected Gray to ask questions that cut into the heart and soul of LeBron to find out why he truly made the decision to leave his hometown team and play for the Heat.

Well instead, Gray decided to just lob powder-puff question after powder-puff question. I don’t even know what to call it, but it wasn’t a real interview. My favorite question of all was “Do you bite your nails?” Jim Gray, who cares if James bites his nails? Other questions were of this same nonsensical nature. Also, the tone Gray used just made the whole “show” boring, not reflecting at all the excitement and speculation that led up to it.

Before I do any interview, I will always think of Gray and “The Decision,” and I will make sure I do everything the opposite way he did it. An interview needs to feel warm and friendly, otherwise the interviewee will never open up to share some of his/her stronger emotions. If the interview focuses on a difficult or controversial topic, the tough questions need to be asked. They HAVE to be asked. The answers to those questions are what people really want to know. Jim Gray failed at these fundamental interviewing techniques. There is no way I will make the same mistakes.

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More Than Just A Job

Over the past few weeks, I have learned about safety and ethics when it comes to being a journalist. And I discovered something that I had never realized, let alone ever thought about. When someone becomes a journalist, it means more than just a profession, or something you only have to worry about 8-5 on weekdays. Journalism is a way of life.

It’s almost frightening to think that my job could possibly put me in danger. My teacher showed examples in class of journalists who had hate mail sent to them, and others who had been stalked and beat up, or even killed, just because there was one crazy in the world who for whatever reason became obsessed with the broadcaster. My teacher also has talked to my class about taking extra safety precautions, like making sure your door is always locked and making sure you are not being followed. In addition, he mentioned getting a security system for our home or apartment.

Currently, I probably don’t need to be following all of these guidelines at this point in my journalism career. But, I need to seriously consider these once I land my first job and begin to get my face out there. Essentially, as a reporter I will become a local celebrity in whatever town I am working in.

And along with safety, I also have to consider the way I act in public. One of the examples given in class is that if my picture were taken in a bar, that could have negative ramifications, even if I am drinking legally and have had only one beer. A photo wouldn’t be able to explain that I was there meeting with a friend. Everyone in this business is under the microscope, because again we are local or national celebrities.

There are also consequences beyond just the personal aspect. A broadcast journalist also represents the station they work for. If I were to get in any trouble, the station could suffer a hit in reputation along with myself. I had never considered any of the potential consequences of being on television when deciding to go into journalism and become a broadcast journalist.

I found that over the past few weeks I have kept asking myself “Is this career worth it then?” I have to say yes it is. I believe that as long as the right steps are taken, negative consequences can be easily avoided. I just need to make sure I am aware of my surroundings and to not put myself in stupid situations.

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Another way to jam

In today’s world, news is pouring in from social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter at an astronomically increasing rate. I have no doubt that at some point in the future, Twitter will be the number one place where people get their news. When you think about it, it makes sense.

Twitter allows for news to be spread literally seconds after it happens. Camera phones allow images and videos to be posted to the the social networking site, letting followers feel as if they are at the scene. Through Twitter, people get the news in 140 characters, which is just enough for the juiciest information that each story offers. Everything about Twitter is what people want out of their news.

So, it is no surprise that other social networking capabilities are being unveiled that are extremely close to Twitter. However, they offer there own unique twists.

The most recent addition to the family of social networking sites is Ping. iTunes created Ping to allow users to follow their favorite solo artists or bands. A musician can post what he or she is doing at that very moment, which includes the ability to post videos that Ping users can watch. Also, Ping lets people who are following the same musicians to chat with one another.

Some may argue that you can just follow your favorite musician on Twitter, but Ping has so much more to offer from a musical standpoint. Just by opening up iTunes on your computer and clicking on the Ping tab, you can see what your favorite artists are listening to at that very moment or even what songs they are downloading to their computers or iPods!

Social networking is beginning to branch out as it becomes more and more popular. We saw this same evolution for television news. ESPN was created for people who want all sports, all the time. CNN delivers just the top news stories around the globe.

Ping is another type of social network, one that can give music fanatics the ability to get in the heads of their favorite musicians. But no social network stands alone. Each one can be connected to another, like how Ping gives any user the option to connect with Twitter, straight from the Ping page in iTunes. But, who knows, maybe in a few years there will be a social network site purely for all the sportos out there!

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A critical self-review

On my most recent reporting shift for KOMU, I found myself heading out to Holts Summit, Missouri. I was assigned to report on a follow-up story on what the townspeople in Holts Summit were hearing and thinking about the trial of Josh Maylee, a man who was arrested in late October for killing three people and injuring one other.

When I arrived, the first place I thought to go were some of the local businesses. I immediately felt out of place. I introduced myself, but two teenage girls behind one front desk just smiled nervously and wouldn’t say anything more than a polite “hello.” Realizing I would have no luck here, I went to some of the nearby gas station. But, nobody wanted to talk. People said they either felt too close to the case, so they shouldn’t say anything, or that they really didn’t know anything about the case. I then called one of the producers at KOMU, and he told me to head back to cover another story.

Even though I am still learning how to do the job right, I found myself frustrated after talking to these people, and mad at myself for not trying harder. I wondered if I should have pushed some of the people harder for an interview, or not left as early as I did. I thought maybe I should have started to knock on house doors after not having luck at any of the businesses.

I really think I could have gotten a decent story had I asked more questions and tried to explain to the residents that I was trying to tell a feel-good story about their town’s recuperation from a very tragic event. Next time, when I cover a story like this, I will approach the situation differently and do much more explaining to possible interviewee’s on what my story is about.

The story that I actually ended up covering was on a police officer who allegedly used excessive force to apprehend a civilian. Having gotten back to KOMU after attempting the first story, I only had time to get an interview for this second story. Plus, it took me a while to find a phone number for someone I could talk to. My frustration of failing on the first story only made this process more difficult.

So, by the time the night was over, I had ended up on-set in the KOMU studio, where I did a quick reader followed by the sound bite. Yet on my way home, I found myself mad again, this time for not clearing my head and trying to get actual video, or b-roll, for my second story.

Through all this, I realized that even though I didn’t get what I wanted for each story, I have the drive it takes to be a reporter. Recognizing that I could have done things better, I know that when the situation presents itself the next time around, I will rise to the challenge.

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The importance of sound

My dad always listens to podcasts of the radio talk show Sound Opinions. Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot host the show, which airs on Chicago Public Radio every Friday night at 8 p.m. and Saturday morning at 11 a.m. The two hosts discuss and review some of the most recent albums that have been released by the biggest names in the rock music world. My dad always says the show is an interesting listen. I have never been a big fan of podcasts though because my thought is always, “how can it be good if you can’t see anything?”

But I finally decided to take his advice and listen to the show. I listened to one of the podcasts on the Sound Opinions website since I was unable to listen to the show during the actual broadcast. Well after listening to one of DeRogatis and Kot’s shows, I couldn’t believe how great and well put-together it was.
U2 Sound Opinions Review

The podcast I tuned into last week focused on the rise and current state of the band U2 and how they are one of the most popular bands touring the globe. But the part I was most amazed about was what could be taken from the radio shows and applied to a television news package. The show made great use of sound segments to mix together different audio tracks beautifully. In one part, DeRogatis and Kot talked over the sound of U2’s “An Cat Dubh,” and I didn’t even realize how they blended together the song with their voices until about halfway through the hour-long segment. And this was after they had reviewed three or four of U2’s albums.

Sound in a reporter’s packages can be used in the same way. Natural sound should be able to blend in with the reporter track so instead of them being two different tracks, they seem to be one in the same. This is what every reporter’s goal should be when sitting down at the edit bay to put together a package.

DeRogatis’s and Kot’s personalities are also good examples of elements that can be taken from a podcast and applied to a television story. The two hosts really get into their job when reviewing U2. I asked my dad if they were always like this, and my dad’s response was an emphatic “yes.” So why can’t reporters insert their voices into the story more? A lot of the times it seems as if reporters don’t truly get into their story because they feel as if the video will carry it. This is hardly the case. The audience wants the anchors and reporters in a newscast to show that they care about their work. And I guess it took listening to a podcast to realize how much the voices and sound matter regardless of whether there is video.

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What makes a good story

On any reporting shift at KOMU, a reporter must come with at least three story ideas. So on my first reporter shift in late October, I went to the station with what I thought were three pretty decent ideas. My first one was a feature-like story on a library in the town of Centralia, which is about a half hour from the TV station. It had just won its second award in as many years. The Library Journal hands out the awards, or stars, nationwide to libraries that show certain characteristics, like being friendly and technological savvy.

I thought this was the best story that I had found, and I thought it could be fairly interesting. How is a library in Mid-Missouri winning these awards? Well, when I pitched the idea, the news director Stacey Woelfel didn’t really like it, and told me to share my other two ideas. Both of those were struck down too.

He then told me what really makes a story: conflict. And while this seems obvious, not every story has to be centered around some sort of controversy. But at the same time, I absolutely understood what the news director was talking about. None of my ideas had multiple angles. For their to be conflict, there doesn’t have to be something where a fight could break out over the issue. There just needs to be two differing view points where people watching can relate to the issue.

I need to be able to come up with story ideas like this. Switching gears to a recent broadcast class, my teacher took the whole class outside, where we walked around the block to look for story ideas. I had three. My teacher had more than 30. We then did a brainstorming activity with the whole class, where we shouted out story ideas related to three different topics on the board. I was shocked by how many story ideas we came up with. All of them could be done right here in Columbia. And most of them involved some sort of conflict.

This was an extremely effective way to come up with story ideas that were both very original and contained an element of disagreement. I will definitely go through a similar process by myself before my next reporter shift to see if I can wow Stacey Woelfel with a much better story idea.

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Riding the elephant

The phrase “Don’t ride the elephant” may not mean a lot to the normal person, but it carries heavy meaning to a reporter. The phrase means to not get involved in the story to the point where you (the reporter) become the spectacle. A reporter’s job is to tell the story. That’s it. It sounds simple, right? Yet reporters still fall into this trap.

Because my hometown is Chicago, I sometimes tune into the news I would normally watch at home, ABC7 Chicago. One of the sports reporters there is Ryan Chiaverini.

Overall, he is a relatively decent reporter/anchor, but I much prefer Mark Giangreco to Chiaverini.

In one of Chiaverini’s stories, he covered the BMX Dew Tour at Soldier Field in Chicago. The story was well put together except for the very end. Chiaverini chose to “ride the elephant.” With the camera rolling he tried to ride one of the bikes. He rode about 10 feet and then tried to do a get some lift under the front wheel. Chiaverini then yelled “Wooo!” like he was doing really well. His attempted wheelie caused him to lose his balance and fall to the ground. From my point of view sitting on the couch, it looked like he hit his shoulder pretty hard, but he got up and seemed okay. It wasn’t live or anything, so it could have been taken out of the story. Why he chose to include it, I have no idea.

The bottom line is he looked ridiculous. I don’t remember anything about the story other than that, and my view of Ryan Chiaverini has now changed forever. The reporter chose to make the story about himself, rather than the actual event.

My broadcast teacher has referred to this mistake multiple times in class to remind us that the focus of the story is the story, not the reporter. Chiaverini’s example just reaffirmed this lesson for why the reporter can’t, and shouldn’t, become the central character in a story.

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