Brian Edwards Media

Media Tip: Down-the-line interviews – avoid them.

telly-setWhen you’re in one city and your interviewer is in another you may be asked to do a “down-the-line” interview. Not many people handle these well, because they pose very special difficulties. Genuine eye contact is impossible, since you are looking at a camera and not at the person you’re talking to. Even if you can see the interviewer in the lens, it’s remote, strange and impersonal.

Because of the technical problems of “feedback”, you have to wear an ear-piece rather like a hearing aid.  Earpieces, alas, are not one-size-fits-all. Unless they’re custom-made for you they’re uncomfortable, and they have a habit of falling out mid-interview.

The down-the-line interview is an awkward and unnatural arrangement. It’s hard to be keen and conversational when you’re talking to something on a tripod.

But there are psychological problems with this sort of interview too. In our experience, the down-the-line interview tends to encourage interviewers to be more abrasive than they would normally be face to face, just like people are often braver on the telephone than they are in person. It’s a lot easier to bawl out a tradesman on the phone than when he’s looming over you in the kitchen.

If there is more than one person involved in a discussion and one them is in the studio with the interviewer, that person is likely to get the lion’s share of air time and attention. Even “listening shots” can make comments.

All in all, we believe that unless there’s absolutely no choice, the down-the-line interview is to be avoided. Our best advice is that if you can get on a plane and be in the same studio as the interviewer, it’s time and money very well spent.    

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  1. There was an interview with Paul Henry on Close up recently where he had Peta Sharples on camera and an “expert” on prisons in the studio. Each time Henry asked Sharples a question, Henry cut him off as soon as he started to answer. The exchanges (?) with Sharples were at least 75% Henry talking with the balance to Sharples but with incomplete sentences. I think Peta was trying to explain the success in rehabilitation in Maori prison units.
    Henry was as you say aggressive and rude- from a safe distance! Perhaps he could make a video on how not to interview?

    • I remember this interview, and remember becoming extremely annoyed. Pita’s major advantage is that he’s a natural on television, and comes across as both thinking and feeling. NZers are fairly sophisticated viewers, with well-tuned antennae for unfair play, so we can only hope they all became as irritated as we did.

      I’m conflicted on Paul Henry’s interviewing. He can be so darned good – and then in a heartbeat so dreadful. One thing is for certain: while he rates, he’ll be on our screens, and for all his lapses he’s a major talent.

  2. I would dispute that New Zealanders are sophisticated viewers. I would contend that as a relatively isolated and provincial society the exact opposite is the case – most New Zealanders are very credulous viewers who tend to defer to authority, and in fact prefer being told what to think by either the interviewer or interviewee.

    I know this is common in a lot of parochial communities, but unlike larger countries we have no really large, sophisticated urban middle class that prevents the all-out echo chamber effect created by the likes of Paul Henry.

    • I hear what you’re saying, Tom, but you might be underestimating us, particularly the techno-savvy younger generations. I remember being gobsmacked when my nine-year-old pointed out the editing techniques being used in programmes to his younger brother. Generation X has been cynical from birth. I’d be pretty horrified if I thought that people were taking television interviewers or their subjects at face value.