If you had to pick one interviewing technique that you’ve learned that all journalists should be using, but aren’t, what would that be?
There is a question that you can ask that I learned from This American Life’s comic book, which came out many years ago. And in it, Ira refers to one of those old public radio dudes who’s perfect at their job and has been doing it forever, that there is one question that you can ask in any situation. I am embarrassed to say this, but I probably use it every two weeks on average, so that would be one in three interviews, let’s say. And it is, essentially, ‘What did you think it was going to be like, what did it turn out to be, and how do they compare?’ And you can ask that about anything.
Ira explains that very insightfully. I mean, Ira is the first episode of The Turnaround because he is the person I know who has thought the most about his craft and why he makes every move that he makes. He’s a guy who worked at NPR for 20 years before he started This American Life, and I think that whole time he was plotting This American Life.
Ira is a genius with this. Ira says, ‘That is a perfect question because it automatically inspires reflection.' It inspires a compare and contrast that fundamentally asks, ‘What does this mean?’ And that is the work of most interviews, is to try and hear the story that contains the information and then hear the meaning of that. And people don’t usually offer both of those at the same time, but this question sort of automatically demands them.