Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Your own words should not be in someone else's sound bite

Several years ago I was covering a national story, one of those things where every news organization is represented. We had to take turns with an interview subject, and I caught a little of the dialogue between one reporter and the woman she was interviewing. The woman had answered the same question several times, but apparently it was not to the liking of the reporter.

Reporter: "So, aren't you trying to say this? (She explained what she thought the woman should say.) And if you could repeat your answer for me it would help."

Great. Wonderful. Why the hell bother interviewing someone if you're gonna put words in her mouth? In this case we had a reporter either trying to put forth her own agenda or wanting the perfect sound bite.

(By the way, I looked up that reporter and she is apparently no longer in the business.)

This is a rather blatant example of putting words into someone's mouth, but I see it in a more subtle manner all the time. If your question begins with, "So, what you're trying to say is..." then you are, as they say in court, leading the witness.

If you're interviewing someone and you don't get a great sound bite, ask another question. Don't ask the exact same question hoping to get a different answer. And do not, under any circumstances, "help" the person "figure out" what he or she is "trying" to say.

Of course sometimes with politicians you have to ask the same question over and over because they simply go off on tangents and don't answer it. "Let me repeat the question since you didn't really answer it," is a common line when the pols are dodging an issue.

But when the average Joe is on the other end of the microphone, keep your words and opinions out of his mouth.


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