Interviewing: It's not just a load of old chit-chat
Without journalists specialising in interviews, the media would lose its beating heart, says Rob McGibbon
Monday 26 January 2009
Brace. Brace. We are entering the eye of the awards season storm. Prepare for flash floods of tears and sudden squalls of sickening effusiveness. Kate Winslet has already set the gush barometer barmy with her unintentionally hilarious Golden Globes meltdown, so this year's Thank Yous might be messier than usual.
I expect all the brilliant creative people will rightfully be thanked as well as some questionable additions such as lawyers, designers and dentists. But will anyone ever thank the forgotten tribe who do so much to elevate our beloved stars onto those podiums of glory? No, of course they won't.
Who am I referring to? Well, no less than the humble interviewers. Of course, raw talent and critical acclaim should ultimately decide who gets what gong and, thankfully, that is generally the case. But who can deny the power and influence that publicity and marketing carry in the awards process? The interview is the essential axis around which all the hype spins.
Mickey Rourke, who is already a worthy Globe winner for The Wrestler and is in the ring with nominations for a BAFTA and an Oscar, has never been more available to the media than in the past six months. It is refreshing that he admitted his volubility is all down to his pursuit of the big awards. "If you want to win, you gotta sell the movie – and that means doing every goddamn interview possible," he said recently.Rourke knows that publicity helps create "momentum" in the closing weeks of awards campaigns, which can provide the deciding nudge for an undecided judge with a hovering pen.
The power of the interview is not confined to showbiz and is a driving factor whenever people have something to sell. Personalities from business, sport and politics all need to do interviews in order to plug into the media's mainframe.
If breaking news and comment are the brains of the media, then interviews are its beating heart, which is why magazines, newspapers, television and radio stations, devote so much space to them. Everyone is interested in someone and the world would be a lot less knowledgeable if not for the industry of the interviewers extracting all this information.
A skilled interviewer is the primary source of revelations that often set the agenda, because everyone else shamelessly feeds off an exclusive line no matter where it originated. How often is the day's political story generated from the 8.10am grilling by John Humphrys on the Today programme, or by a comment from GMTV's regular sofa pundit, Gordon Brown? How much longer would it have taken Alistair Darling to reveal the true trauma of our country's finances if it weren't for Decca Aitkenhead's diligence for The Guardian?
And on lighter matters, thanks to Ginny Dougary we know that Felix Dennis once joked that he'd killed a man. Only to deny it after publication (boo). And due to Piers Morgan's jugular questioning for GQ we know that Nick Clegg chalked up "no more than 30" lovers and that Helen Mirren – and many others that Morgan has interviewed, except, of course, David Cameron – once liked a toot of cocaine. Hell, if it wasn't for Rebecca Hardy of The Daily Mail the world would never know Piers Morgan took drugs.
Equally, if it wasn't for the good old fashioned interrogation we wouldn't have the joy of hearing Steve McClaren talking English with a Dutch accent or listening to Hardeep Singh Kohli get his turban in a twist while locking plastic horns with Les Ross of BBC Radio West Midlands.
The business of interviewing is in rude health, but where is the thanks for the interviewers? Interviewing is one of the most labour-intensive fields of journalism. It is time consuming and takes skills on all levels – contacts and negotiation with PRs (yawn), research, planning, the tricky blend of personable tact and cunning to conduct the interview, and the ability to write or broadcast your results.
It is for this reason that Access Interviews.com will today announce the winners of the world's first annual awards dedicated to interviewers. There'll be no ceremony or party – we're all skint, right? – but just a nod of respect to the best and most popular. It also seems only fair that we prod the egos of a few interviewers who have gone beyond the call of journalism to please some stars.
Naturally, a tasteful margin of schmoozing is a prerequisite in this business, but certain hacks are worthy winners of our "Ventouse" award for suction and the "Gone Native" award for getting too chummy with a subject.
Its fitting that Frost/Nixon is up for a clutch of movie awards. It celebrates the most famous interview of the 20th century. Maybe all interviewers can accept that recognition as acknowledgement of our vital role in the scheme of media things that matter.
Rob McGibbon is a freelance journalist and the founder of AccessInterviews.com – the global platform for publishers and journalists to promote their exclusive interviews. Link to AI for free at www.accessinterviews.com
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