In the check-out line at Victoria Park New World this morning I bumped into my regular co-panellist on the media review segment of TV3’s The Nation, Bill Ralston. After comparing notes about why men enjoy supermarket shopping and women generally don’t, Bill asked me if I’d watched Q & A which follows the Sunday edition of The Nation on TV1 and is, I suppose, our competitor. No, I hadn’t watched it, but I’d be looking at it later on MySky. Bill thought I shouldn’t miss it. Susan Wood was ‘terrific’, she’d demolished David Shearer and given much the same treatment to National’s Nikki Kaye. By coincidence, Bill and I had earlier been talking on The Nation to freelance journalist Karl Du Fresne who’d penned an article entitled ‘RNZ must right its lean to the left.’ Karl’s position was that there was strong evidence of endemic left wing bias by Radio New Zealand interviewers and he cited Kim Hill, Kathryn Ryan and Mary Wilson as examples.
I don’t agree with Karl’s thesis any more than I agreed with those who claimed right-wing bias on the part of the media when Helen Clark was running the country. Journalists have, in my view, an obligation to call to account whichever political party or coalition holds the reins of power, to be, if you like, an informal opposition. Anyway, when I got home, I watched Susan Wood interviewing David Shearer and Nikki Kaye.So did I think Susan Wood was ‘terrific’? Well, I suppose that depends on your criteria in judging what constitutes ‘terrific’ interviewing. Here are some of mine: (For convenience I’ve referred to the interviewee as ‘he’ and the interviewer as ‘she’. Anything else is just too clumsy. Blame the language!)
*The interviewee and his views should be the main focus of the interview;
*The interview is not a platform for the interviewer’s opinions;
*As a general principle, the interviewee should do more of the talking than the interviewer;
*Unless the interviewee is obfuscating or deliberately avoiding answering, he should be allowed to make his points without undue interruption;
*With the same proviso, the interviewee should be allowed to finish his sentence or the point he is making;
*The interviewer should be more interested in what the interviewee has to say than what she has to say;
*The most important interviewing skill is careful listening.
And here are three more from the doyen of BBC interviewing, Sir Robin Day’s Code for Television Interviewers:
*He should give fair opportunity to answer questions, subject to the time-limits imposed by television;
*He should press his questions firmly and persistently, but not tediously, offensively, or merely in order to sound tough;
*He should remember that a television interviewer is not employed as a debater, prosecutor, inquisitor, psychiatrist or third-degree expert, but as a journalist seeking information on behalf of the public.
So how, on these criteria, did Susan Wood do in her interviews with David Shearer and Nikki Kaye? Was she, as Bill believes, ‘terrific’?
Well, to be really fair, you should watch this morning’s Q & A ‘on demand’ and not just take my word for it. I’m kind of ‘old school’ on this topic. But I’d say that Susan failed to meet any of the criteria I’ve suggested while providing a classic illustration of the three interviewing crimes I’ve cited from Sir Robin Day’s Code for Television Interviewers.
Meanwhile, David Shearer made a reasonable fist of bumbling his way through Wood’s hyperactive barrage, quite properly demanding the right to finish at least one or two of his sentences; and Nikki Kaye’s opinions on food labeling received marginally more air time than her interviewer’s. It’s a start. But ‘terrific’? I don’t think so.
For ‘terrific’ check out Duncan Garner, Rachel Smalley, the late Sir Paul Holmes or, curiously enough, Susan herself in some of her earlier incarnations. In the meantime, I suggest she up her Ritalin dose. Guyon Espiner might choose to do the same. [With possibly the occasional exception, this is my last post on Brian Edwards Media. I blog no more. Rob Muldoon once said that the only reason for my broadcasting success was “an intriguing Irish accent”. You can still hear that once a month on Jim Mora’s Afternoons programme and every Sunday morning on The Nation with the aforementioned Mr Ralston. Cheers!] Bill Ralston, David Shearer, Duncan Garner, Karl Du Fresne, Nikki Kaye, Paul Holmes, Q & A, Rachel Smalley, Rob Muldoon, Susan Wood, Television Interviewing, The Nation.