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Feedback: The Art Of The Interview

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Roger Bolton Roger Bolton 15:21, Friday, 16 March 2012

I sometimes think I am a poacher turned gamekeeper turned poacher.

As a producer and then as presenter of programmes like Sunday on Radio 4, I plotted and conducted interviews designed to expose what I thought were flaws in the interviewee’s position.

Now, on Feedback, I critically examine such interviews on behalf of listeners.
In doing so, I have to conduct interviews with programme makers or executives which are designed to test their arguments and reveal any flaws.    Confused?

I am, occasionally, and certainly feel a little sheepish, or at least that I am in a glass house throwing stones, using the same techniques that are being questioned.   And then there is the problem of interviewing Premier League presenters like Victoria  Derbyshire and Justin Webb, who could do what I am attempting to do rather better.

Oh get on with it, I hear you cry, enough of this existential angst.

OK I will.

If you regularly  listen to Feedback you will know that a significant number of listeners dislike the way some Today presenters interrupt their interviewees, and the number of times they do it.

However it’s not only John Humphrys and Jim Naughtie who have come under fire from our listeners recently.

Listener Michael Brooks criticised the World at One’s Martha Kearney for her “”constant interruptions and belligerent style” when interviewing  Ed Milliband.

And Margaret Angus was “exasperated” when Evan Davis interviewed David Cameron on Today. She said “I wanted to hear what the Prime Minister said - not the constant and aggressive interruption of the interviewer – it was maddening”.

Even the aforementioned Justin Webb has felt the force of complaint as he changed his relatively laid back approach for a more interventionist one.

We invited Justin and the multiple award-winning Queen of 5Live Victoria Derbyshire into the studio to discuss some of these issues. Also present was listener Sarah Wroot.

Here is part one of our discussion, which dealt mainly with the political interview.

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Next week on Feedback , Victoria and Justin will discuss interviewing members of the public, some of whom can be in a highly emotional state when live on air, and who may not realise the consequences of what they are saying..

Please do let me know what you think  of my interviews about interviews.

Roger Bolton presents Feedback


  • Comment number 1.

    It was interesting to learn that Justin Webb can be interviewing people at such short notice. "Mr X in 20 seconds" sort of thing. Could a producer with a grudge not take advantage of this by inserting a variety of firebrand boffins?

    It is important that politicians are interrupted when they avoid giving direct answers to questions. Politicians who come on radio merely to regurgitate the contents of a PR release regardless of the questions asked must be stopped in their tracks. Recently on the Today programme the Chinese Ambassador to the UK commented that in Britain interviewers do not show much respect for politicians - which translates as interviewers sometimes ask difficult questions. Well, that is what exactly they are paid to do and what most listeners want them to do! Of course, senior politicians are expert in not answering difficult questions, and listening to them duck and dive can at times be frustrating and entertaining. This gives rise to the question: How best can an interviewer communicate to listeners that a politician is deliberately choosing not to answer the question (for they don't half know how to get on to a sidetrack!)?


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