The least objectionable thing about Fox 9 interviews

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.

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Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Robert Moffitt on 11/05/2010 - 01:40 pm.

    I don’t think I have ever done an in-studio interview with Fox9, now that I think of it. Odd, because I have done them at all the other stations.

  2. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/06/2010 - 09:28 am.

    Yeah, it’s always bugs me on Almanac that you don’t get straight-on shots. Instead of having everyone sit around a table or something they should all be in separate rooms sitting in front of cameras with the screen split up so all we can see is their beautiful talking heads. And why does Charlie Rose have that big table?

    Common, this is TV land nonsense. If the person being interviewed is in the same building sit or stand next to them and conduct an interview like a normal human being. We’re not there to see you, we’re there hear what they have to say. If I want to see mark Richie’s face I can just go to his website and look at him all day if I want to.

    It’s like having reporters stand around in the dark hours after something happened and there’s no longer anything to see; nor is it even possible to see anything BECAUSE IT’S DARK. This crap is all dreamed up by pinhead consultants, let’s not pretend it makes any real sense.

    In a pinch you can do an interview with one camera. Every local studio has at least three cameras set up. If you stick a guy in another room now you’ve got four cameras sitting around (three in the studio and one in another room). There’s no technical reason for this, they’re just going for a certain “look” that pinhead consultants have told them will create a more dramatic interview. It’s an artificial interview environment.

    My experience interviewing people is mostly based on my experience working with patients on psychiatric units, although I’ve done some journalistic interviews. Some of you guys have a lot more experience with news interviews so what do you think? My take is that physical proximity matters. Although one can make a good interview on the phone, in an exchange like the one under discussion here people may act a little different face to face. It’s hard to get unnerved for instance by a face on a tube. In this exchange the advantage goes to the reporter because in most cases they are far more comfortable in front of a camera than the person they’re interviewing, and they know it. I think the remote interview technique does create an environment that gives a hostile interviewer an advantage. It’s easier to make someone look flummoxed and less polished. People tend to interpret that as an indication of confusion or dishonesty.

    It seems to have backfired in this case, but I’m willing to bet the that the people at Fox 9 know at least as much about how stuff plays out on TV as I do, and I’m no expert. This was an ambush. Some of you guys may have done interviews like this, but have you ever been treated the way Riches was by the interviewer? I suspect if you were ambushed like Richie was you’d have a different take on remote interviews. Yes, in theory they’re fine for normal interviews, but this… Remember Fox knew in advance what kind of interview it’s going to be, Richie didn’t.

    Of course the interview itself is the primary outrage, but let’s not pretend that basic propaganda techniques and technical manipulations aren’t in play here.

  3. Submitted by John Jordan on 11/07/2010 - 02:07 pm.

    Wow, three columnists from three liberal publications object to the liberal Mark Richie being asked hard questions and getting poked when he’s running from answering. Shocked, I tell you, completely shocked.

    Mark Richie has no defense. He’s posting biased Twitter posts, he’s already made up his mind on the current recount, and he’s about as incompetent as it comes when it comes to being a SOS. Total DFL hack. Worst SOS in our history.

  4. Submitted by Steve Rose on 11/08/2010 - 06:47 am.

    I had not previously seen the interview, but used the link in this article to do so. I was expecting a notable dust-up and was disappointed. A couple of hard questions and a couple of spirited answers; seems like it contained the elements of a good interview.

    Ritchie was somehow able to extrapolate his election win to be a positive performance review regarding the Coleman-Franken recount. That is quite a reach.

  5. Submitted by Michael Hunt on 11/08/2010 - 10:31 am.

    Hey Johnny, thanks for the “unbiased, independent” review. What’s even more amusing is, in the 2010 GOP tidal wave, your party couldn’t even nominate a candidate to come within striking distance of this “DFL Hack”.

  6. Submitted by Steve Rose on 11/08/2010 - 12:10 pm.

    Michael (#5):

    The MN tidal wave swept through the legislature. Quite remarkable for a blue state. Outside the legislature, the DFL candidates were quite successful this election.

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