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June 04, 2010

Comments

I've heard this from Silverblatt before (on your MOI broadcast, in fact), the idea that you shouldn't look at any notes during an interview. And that you should listen intently to the guest and then figure out what to say next as a result.

I would note that this may work in a very specific type of interview -- like the kind Silverblatt conducts with literary types who, as he says in the Believer interview, he's not trying to embarrass or get the truth from -- he's just trying to relate.

But as a general interviewing principle, it has serious flaws. It's very hard to ask "tough questions" with this approach. E.g., if you're dealing with a CEO or politician or someone who can easily talk you in a self-serving direction or skip around points or relentlessly push a message, the interviewer has to take control and not "sit on the edge of his sit listening carefully to every word." The way you do this might be to have powerful evidence or quotes at the ready. Or a list of "be careful of these talking points" that you can refer to if interviewee launches into them.

Bottom line, I think the Silverblatt approach is good for soft gloves literary interviews, but as a general journalistic principle it has major shortcomings.

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