In the wake of Fox 9 anchor Heidi Collins’ under-informed, innuendo-laden interview with Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, both the Star Tribune’s Neal Justin and City Pages’ Kevin Hoffman added their voices to the criticisms. There was plenty of pith: Justin using the Strib’s institutional heft to note Collins went “way over the line” and Hoffman summing it up in streetfighter style as “an insanely hostile interview.”
But Justin Thursday, and Hoffman today, also crank on Fox 9 for something I think is overblown: putting the grillee in a separate studio.
Noted Justin, “This offers the prosecutor — er, I mean, the interviewer — a huge advantage. Collins is a veteran of talking into a camera. Most interviewees are not.”
Hoffman called the tactic a “dirty trick” and used to justify bagging an Fox 9 interview a couple of months ago after he put Tom Emmer’s kid’s Facebook pictures in his alt-weekly. I know he’s not alone in feeling this way, so don’t consider the rest of this an attack on him.
I’ve done plenty of Fox 9 interviews — in-studio and in-newsroom — and while I can’t speak for everyone’s comfort, I have to say I don’t find the approach objectionable.
The big problem with non-studio interviews isn’t being somewhere else. It’s when you can’t see the interviewer.
I did the out-of-studio thing couple of weeks ago, and was pleasantly surprised at Fox 9’s set-up. There’s a monitor above the camera with a split screen: you can see the interviewer and yourself.
For me, this is actually more straightforward than the studio approach, when you’re never quite sure which camera to look into (you’re not supposed to care, but you do), or what you look like. Personally, I find that more disorienting.
Is there any objective reason for a TV station to do things this way, beyond the ambush potential? Yes. It’s easier to get straight-on shots of two people looking right into a camera. (I don’t know how much TV’s budget cuts and robotic cameras play into this.)
I did the segment that Hoffman bagged on, and he mentions at one point I looked “disoriented” when Jeff Passolt criticized him for not appearing. I honestly don’t remember what I was thinking at that moment (though I was disappointed Hoffman passed; I wanted to see the confrontation).
However, this was an instance where I couldn’t see Passolt — and it wasn’t the station’s fault. I didn’t want to drive to Eden Prairie, so I asked the station to come to my Minneapolis house. I don’t know if they could’ve rigged up a monitor in that situation, but I didn’t ask them to.
I should state that I’ve never been in the shooting gallery a la Ritchie (and, potentially, Hoffman), and that could make a difference. But it’s not like awkward shoutfests don’t happen when guests are in-studio, and I’m sure newsmakers have done hostile interviews over the phone, where you really can’t see your interlocutor.
Again, this is a personal thing, so you certainly want to consider Hoffman’s advice to potential guests: “Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Agree to a Studio-to-Studio Hook-up.” I can’t blame him for negotiating to be in studio if that made him more comfortable. To me, though, the problem with Fox 9 interviews remains under-informed, innuendo-laden interviewers, not your proximity to them.