Monday, December 2

Interview Advice From Barbara Walters

As a regular "viewer" of The View, I recently decided to read the memoir "Audition" by Barbara Walters. It's a fairly large tome, at around 600 pages, but since I had hours to sit at the LASIK clinic, I made it through in no time. 

In the book, the now 86 year old Barbara details her childhood and personal life (including her 3 marriages, a couple of affairs, and relationship with her daughter - at times troubled, now strong), but what fascinated me most was her career path. Since I wasn't even born in 1976 when ABC lured her away from NBC to become coanchor of their Nightly News (with a salary of $1 million a year!) I can't even begin to understand what that meant for women in broadcasting at the time.




I was also quite interested to learn behind-the-scenes information about The View, including the true stories behind the departures of Star Jones and Rosie O'Donnell, though the book was published in 2008 (with an update in 2009) and lots has happened with the cohosts even since then.

My favourite parts of the book are when Barbara shares tidbits from her many interviews. As someone who is intrigued by conversations with celebrities, and has had the opportunity to do a few myself, I soaked up her tips for future reference. (Okay, sure, her subjects are a little higher-profile than mine, and perhaps having your interviews televised for millions is a bit different than having them in print on a little ol' blog, but humour me!)

What I learned from Barbara's example:
  • do your homework: scour clips, watch movies, try to surprise them with something they wouldn't expect you to know (I do that, though I also worry that it might freak them out if I know too much!)
  • write every question you can think of, and whittle them down after
  • read your questions over so many times that you really don't need notes/cards
  • the biggest mistake is to be tied to the questions, especially ones you haven't written yourself (not a problem for me, but once I hire an assistant I'll have to remember this!)
  • try not to interrupt
"Asking the right questions has always been less important than listening to the answers," she writes. After my first two interviews, as I scrambled to type out the subjects' responses, Laurie Gelman kindly gave me some advice about the technology I could purchase in order to record my phone calls, therefore enabling me to be a bit more active in the conversation! Technology has evolved over the last four years, and now with the "Remember" app on my BlackBerry, I'm all set!

I also really enjoyed her chapter about her favourite (and least favourite) interviews, which she opened with: "Everyone should have a chance to be an interviewer. You get the opportunity to ask all the questions you would never have the nerve to ask in real life." My problem is I still think of it as real life, and sometimes feel timid about asking the hard questions. It's much easier when, in my head, I can blame an imaginary editor who really wants the story - hard to do when I'm my own blog editor, and really don't have to answer to anyone!

Case in point: my recent interview with designer Jillian Harris (already one of my most popular posts ever). I knew she wanted to promote her (amazing) new vintage business, but I also knew that my readers would be expecting me to ask at least a couple of Bachelor/Bachelorette questions, so I did...but apologized in advance! I know she has worked very hard to make a name for herself as someone who is talented in her field (she's also now the resident designer on the Love It Or List It spinoff, Love It Or List It Vancouver), and I imagine that she's sick and tired of answering questions about the reality shows she appeared on once upon a time.




The current cast of The View

By the way, while I certainly have some least favourite interview subjects (everyone has been kind and professional, it's just that some are painfully difficult to talk to), unless someone's offering me millions for a tell-all memoir, those will go with me to the grave. My favourite interviews are always the ones done on the phone (as opposed to email, where the Q and A's are so much more simple) and they're the ladies who really elaborate and go into detail, giving me lots of material to work with. It makes sense that the broadcast journalists and TV personalities I've profiled are great at doing that!

While I have to admit that I skimmed some of the book (portions of the childhood information, and some of the interviews that were before my time) it was a really enjoyable read for someone like me who's so into the world of television journalism.

1 comments:

Lori said...

I read this a couple of years ago and was quite excited to get into it. Some of the chapters I flew through but others were slow and dry and *yawn*. I usually read a book a week ~ this one to me was disappointing so I was interested to hear someone else's point of view.