Channeling Terry Gross
By Features Editor Shelah Miner
I’m the kind of girl who has to psych herself up for a day or two before calling our teenage babysitter. I’m not good at small talk, particularly when I don’t know the person I’m talking to very well. When I became Segullah‘s Features Editor this summer, I worried about whether or not I’d be up to the task of giving support and feedback to our writers, but I stewed and sweated over my responsibility to conduct an interview for our “Faces of Latter-day Saint Women” feature. I hadn’t done interviewing since my high school journalism days, when my “interviews” were usually notes passed in physics class.
The night before my first Segullah interview, I had one of those restless nights that hearkened back to my college finals days. I dreamed about getting lost on the way to the interview, about getting yelled at, and about showing up without any pants on. When I left the next day, I had a sheet of neatly-typed questions, straightforward directions, a very cool mini tape recorder, and a great wingman (our Assistant Editor, Emily Milner, who came along for moral support). And while we were with the interviewee, things seemed to go well. She was easy to talk to and interested in answering our questions, and we got lots of good material to write about.
Well, we thought we got lots of good material to write about. My new fancy tape recorder? It captured only about 1/3 of our conversation from that afternoon (the tape snapped and it looked like it was still recording). Emily and I managed to piece together a feature that focused on that material we did get, and I think we pulled it off (we’ll see when it runs in our upcoming issue), but I put the article to bed feeling like it could have been better than it was.
Subsequent interviews have gotten easier. Over the last couple of months I’ve had the pleasure interviewing Marilyn Brown through an ongoing series of emails, and find myself still shooting her off little notes when I come across something I think she might find interesting, but I have a hard time feeling confident as an interviewer. I listen to Terry Gross and Krista Tippett on my iPod while I run, and over the last six months, my focus has shifted from listening to the interviews so I could learn and be entertained to listening to the interviews so I can focus on what kinds of questions Gross and Tippett ask and how they engage their interview subjects.
For the experienced interviewers out there– what are your tricks of the trade? How do you prepare? How do you break the ice with the people you interview? And, most important of all, how do you decide who to interview?
And for you interview readers–what do you like to hear about in an interview? What are some of the favorite interviews you’ve read, and what made them good?