In my day job as an agricultural journalist I interview people. Through the years I’ve learned to study a person’s history and accomplishments before we talk.
Interestingly, most of the country folks I interview are not fooled by their alleged “importance.” They’re just glad someone finally asked their opinions, and that the interviewer is actually willing to pay attention and publish those opinions.
It’s like turning on a tap. They answer every question thoroughly and unhesitatingly. They dispense something increasingly in short supply in today’s world — common sense.
In those cases I’m only a funnel through which those people’s opinions, beliefs and suggestions pass on their way to helping solve even the thorniest problems.
Not everybody is so easy, of course. I’ve learned to beware of the person who seems unsure of himself or herself. One lady insisted I help her decide what to wear for my photograph of her. Later I figured out her behavior assured her of an excuse if she didn’t look “marvelous” in the photo. “That darn photographer advised me wrong!” She felt no photograph could possibly do her justice.
One fellow called the editor — angrily — after his telephone interview was published, complaining the writer didn’t print what he said. As it turned out he lived not far from me, so I presented myself and the tape of our conversation at his front door, thankful my editor had taught me to record telephone interviews. The guy had misrepresented his heifers and a reader called him on it.
Often, interviewees are “famous” people. Some really have earned that sobriquet, but others are only famous in their own minds.
A large part of my job is to keep the interviewee from making a fool of himself or herself by saying something totally out of bounds. When a person does that, it’s fairly easy to quietly ask, “Are you sure you want to say that?” The pseudo-famous folks are most often the guilty ones.
The genuinely famous people run the gamut, but watching television interviews by “news” people (which I try to avoid) convinces me the big media richly deserve the antipathy they receive.
After the 10th person sticks a microphone in the politician’s face and asks the same stupid question, it’s easy to understand the politician’s reaction. Luckily, a few famous people can hold their own. Newt Gingrich is a great example. A television reporter ignominiously “escaped” after Gingrich’s passionate, fact-filled reply to an utterly stupid question.
An interview with the owner of a famous Texas ranch had me nervous. I even wore my snakeskin boots for moral support. But like every other cowboy I’d ever talked with, he offered me coffee.
And when I asked an intelligent question about his cattle (which he obviously had not expected), his eyes twinkled and he told me everything I needed for the story.
I once interviewed a cattleman who had participated in a winning sojourn in Washington, D.C., on behalf of his fellow producers. When I asked, “How would you like to be remembered?” he quietly replied, “As a good cowboy.”
Glenda Price has been a contributing editor to New Mexico Stockman magazine since 1982. Contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org