The pro's and con's of different media formats

January/2005: Media - I think I've done literally, between 100-200 interviews in regards to, ranging from live national feeds, documentaries, print pieces, radio, you name it. It's hard to prepare yourself for a life of regularly being interviewed. Few of us actually say to ourselves, "You know! I'm going to do something with my life that will require me to be interviewed!" It's sort of rare thing for someone to deal with on a fairly regular basis, even though it quickly becomes commonplace and blase after a while once you experience it.

People may say that all men are created equal, but when it comes to media, it's definitely not all equal. There are plusses and negatives to various formats that can please and frustrate, sometimes at the same exact time. I'm bored, need a blog topic so why not list out my favorite "types" of media interviews to do with a pro and con on each. Sure beats blogging about taking my cat for a walk today or my social lif... well, taking my cat for a walk. The list goes from favorite, to least favorite.

1. Live Radio: I fucking love live Radio. I also believe that I am the ROCK at doing live radio interviews. I'd probably be even better if I had a landline. Hmm. I've done live radio on a nationally syndicated level in both the US and Canada, as well as local pieces in Los Angeles, Alabama, Utah, hell, I can't even remember them all.

Pros - Live radio is relaxing, and that's saying something since I totally abhor the phone in general. Even with call-in's, live radio is fun to do. It's the only format that lets you do long-form explanation, with cause and effect description. If I want to talk about our efforts with law enforcement, live radio allows me to do that, unedited, in a format that is soundbite-less. Usually you're being rushed to encapsulate everything in an easy to air sentence or two. That's fine for most questions, but there are some topics that need explanation and time given to them. Radio allows that. You can also get a 20 minute segment, which is beneficial for educating people about what goes on.

Additionally, there aren't distractions for the listener like there is with video. I can look as bad as possible while doing the radio and there's absolutely no distraction. My hat can be crooked, there can be joggers around... doesn't matter. There's that voice/ear connection, with no sight-issues to distract from the content of the message. That's a plus since I'm not exactly Mr. Photogenic. Plus, you can drop a "bitch" in there and most hosts won't care, unlike live TV where I'm sure the host would shit a brick if I were to do so. No worries about your facial expression or a joke bombing, you can somewhat cut loose. I'm still getting practice at doing radio, but so far, so many positives. I'm still waiting for that email from Stern, dammit.

Cons - The major con of live radio is not being able to see who you're talking to, be it a host or a caller. That can lead to the rare instance of both talking at once, which takes some dancing to get back on track. The other con is that I don't have a landline, so I'm sure the cell interviews don't sound as well. Also, the act of waiting on the line waiting for the host can be hazardous. If you get a host that isn't practiced with the lead-in, you can get 1-5 seconds of dead air while he waits for you to say your first statement. A good lead-in to the first comment is always very helpful. The largest con though, is the amount of hosts out there that have their own "angle", be they of the controversial mold, the liberal mold, the conservative mold... it's not always easy to know the leaning of the host in question, making it harder to tailor the kinds of things you wish to say, and how you want to sound saying them.

All in all however, live radio is easily the best. I really wish I had one of those classic radio voices that you need to host a radio show. I can think of no profession that is as appealing at this point in my life.

2. Live Television - Not as enjoyable as live radio, but live television is quite preferable to all other versions of video interviews. While live TV is the hardest of all interviews to prepare for and do, and easily the most stressful, it's also one of my favorites.

Pros - Live television, like live radio, afford you the control of what comes out of your mouth. You can't put a price on that level of control. While there's a major risk of being ambushed on live TV, or "falling off the tightrope", I trust myself to clearly identify my thoughts more than I do an editor or producer. I have yet to have a serious issue with taped video interviews being edited to make me look like an asshole, but the infamous examples throughout television history are too numerous to ignore.

Live television also allows you to do something that no other form of video interview allows... to look straight at the camera. This may not seem important if you haven't done quite a few interviews, but I think being able to look your viewer right in the eyes is a very important aspect of the "connecting with the public" aspect of doing a good interview. You're, in a way, then having a conversation with the viewer, rather than the viewer simply feeling like they're easedropping in on two people talking. It's also quite easier to focus on staring at a black round lens than it is some of the females these stations and companies hire to do interviews. Not saying they're not competent or intelligent, not at all, most of the really attractive women in the news field I've talked to have come across quite competent and intelligent, it's simply not easy to retain perfect focus when talking to someone who is usually, akin to a really intelligent supermodel. That was how my first taped interview went. Never have done TV and they sit me in front of this very intelligent, quite attractive reporter. And then I'm supposedly to quickly think of the word "postulate"? Shit.

Additionally, I hate looking in people's eyes when I speak. I taught myself when in collegiate debate that the best way to maintain focus over my speaking tone, tenor and cadence is to, in a way, "shut off" sight. I find that when talking to males and females alike, it's better to not have to focus on maintaining eye contact as people like to shift, move, blink excessively, or make facial contortions that cause you to analyze what they're doing. This was my main struggle with college debate, as maintaining internal control over so many physical processes at once, while attempting some form of anything resembling brilliance in what I think of to say is hard enough... throw having to make eye contact a priority and it can really toss you off your game. With a "straight ahead at a camera" focus, you can focus on the round orb quickly. It doesn't move. It doesn't express. It's quick to come back to when your eyes or head wanders while trying to use facial expressions or head movements to accentuate points. I lurve it much.

Cons - The most obvious con is the fact that you can do something stupid in front of a live audience that can ruin you. Bust out the wrong sentence, throw in an F-bomb (Ask those I play Halo 2 with, I am an endless stream of cursewords) and you're fucked. It's worse than live radio because if you fuck up on live radio, nobody sees the realization of that on your face. You can cover a fuckup with your voice, but your face will almost always give it away. That's just the tip of the iceberg.

The stress is hardcore. My last live interview I did was on Fox News Channel. Nothing like knowing that you're on a tightrope while three million people watch, AND that you have to contend with someone who is likely to either lie about you, or who possibly may say something unpredictable, throwing you off your game. It's common to say that public speaking is the average person's worst fear. It's not my worst fear, but I can why so many people blanche at the idea of doing it. You can't see who you're talking to. They can see you, you can't see them. When they set you up for a live shot, you don't get a TV or a feed of the program itself. You don't know if you look stupid, you can't see your facial expressions. The paranoia is overwhelming. And then when something surprising happens, you can't see exactly what may have caused it. For example, if you pay close attention to that interview I did with Fox News, the second time they applaud catches me completely by surprise. Sitting in the chair, I had no idea what they were applauding. I didn't think it was my statement, because it was my first bash on Julie Posey. However, that WAS what they were applauding, crazy enough. At the time though, I didn't know if they were applauding me or... I didn't know... free cake? You don't want to thank people for applauding you when hey, maybe they got free cake.

Literally, that was my thought process.

Otherwise, a bad setup can fuck you up too. Doing CNN's Paula Zahn show live was an absolutely terrifying experience for a few reasons. One, they made me stand out in a windy area right on the Williamate River, with people JOGGING around behind me. If you think the distraction of looking at someone is bad, try doing national TV with joggers bopping in and out of your peripheral vision. Adding to that, the earpiece was shoddy and simply wouldn't STAY in my ear due to the wind, plus the show had a technical difficulty that had them cut to us five minutes before we were supposed to go on. I think I did quite a good job in that interview, but goddamn was that hell while doing it.

Still, the ability to control the content of your message is absolutely invaluable.

3. Pre-recorded Television: The vast majority of interviews I've done are pre-recorded television, either by satellite feed or by sitting across from someone while they film it. I've done these for national media, local media, and educational programming. Not very challenging, not very stressful... just... ponderous.

Pros - The people. I like people who work in the video news media. They're typically fairly fun to talk to. I've yet run into a really asshole producer (I'm sure they exist) or a really pricky interviewer. Producers are usually very nice people. Reporters are usually very cool to talk to, even anchors... whom I had previously thought of as complete and utter pricks before ever doing an interview, are damn friendly people. My favorite thus far has to be Wayne Garcia, the anchor of Portland's local Fox affiliate. Never have I had someone walk up and either be interested, or fake being interested so well. I talked to him for about half an hour before an interview once, and he asked me questions I wouldn't have guessed him to even have knowledge about. If you're relaxed, you can have some fun doing taped interviews and learn quite a lot about camerawork, the media hierarchy, and contrast the operational procedures of different news organizations. I was able to read some "format sheets" of upcoming stories that were lying around in a room I was on hold in. I guess most people wouldn't be interested, but I find it very cool to see the inside view of how these companies operate and how some operate differently from one another. Having a chance to continually try to dissect the methodology of camera shots, locations, conditions, lens and such is also quite interesting. I usually try to sucker the cameraguys into yammering at me, and usually they reveal something new each time. And of course, you can screw up and it never airs. My first interview had me blow a word terribly. Just... uncomfortable... silence... while I sought the word I was DEDICATED TO USING. I haven't done that since then, but had that been live, it would have been comparable to Eli Cash's interview in the movie the Royal Tenebaums.

Plus, I've had two Chai's bought for me thus far, and that's the tops.

Cons - The Scourge of the B-Roll. I don't need to go into that again. But there's a lot more. The aforementioned "having to look at someone while talking rather than the camera" thing is definitely up there with B-roll. First, I look terrible from the side. That just doesn't work. The entire "filming it so it looks like a natural conversation" also fools nobody. You lose that connection with the audience, reducing what you're saying to a media-form of "white noise" as you can't really do much that is stark to grab viewer attention. The fact that you know no matter what you do (outside of the group media stuff), you're pretty much filler. They have to fill airtime. You are what they have chosen to fill airtime. Very infrequently do you feel as though the piece is any level of important, even if the topic itself is important. News formats have gone more to a "crash TV" style of broadcasting where they hop around and around. While this is effective in capturing short-attention span viewers (And thereby is the proper thing to do), it certainly doesn't help the dissemination of information, nor allows anything of true substance to be covered.

The overriding con is the loss of control over what you've just said. I've never been screwed with by video media, as mentioned, but there have been quite a few stories that I've watched afterwards and felt like "Why did they use those quotes? Those quotes sucked! Why didn't they break out my good stuff?" Only a couple stories have gone with what I thought were my strongest lines, most notably an KATU piece about the Taylor abduction where they aired my best lines laying into the Clark County Sheriff's Office. The rest kind of pussed out, heh. This has to happen, and I'm suggesting that there's anything wrong with the process, it's an inherent con that can't be overcome, honestly.

4. Print Media (websites and newspapers, not magazines): Now to be completely negative. Print media is, by and large, crap. I've done numerous print interviews and only was completely happy with how I was quoted in two of them (Slweekly, one of the best stories I've read in a long time and the Columbian series by Kathy Durbin) which should pretty much tell you what the con section will be filled with.

Pros - It's too harsh to say none. Print media is good for... well, if you get a really good print reporter, they can do a great, even-sided, balanced story. The recent piece is a great example of this. He found an issue to write about, talked to people on both sides, and quoted at least myself, completely accurately. It also was formatted in a very readable fashion, without giving too much weight to either side. The Kathy Durbin pieces in the Columbian were also what I consider perfect journalism. So there are print journalists out there that can simply hit it right out of the park. Also, print does a good job of writing up cases of arrests. But for every one of those...

Cons - Here's the longer section. There are of course some great print journalists out there. But for every one of them, there's the guy who just got out of journalism school... or the old hard-bitten vet who simply isn't very talented but is good enough for print. Both of these guys want their "home-run" story. That means the more controversial, the more salacious... the better. And if you happen to utter change quotes, miss quotes or gussy it up by cropping quotes for controversy, the better. Plus, print journalists usually have a few stories going on at once, meaning they sometimes just naturally screw quotes up. They're also at the mercy of their editor, who can assign them crap stories that they have no experience covering. The Oregonian here is the worst at this. For the abduction of Taylor, they assigned one of their East Side Portland reporter who had too many other pieces to do at the same time. In the end, they printed a terrible story that was even acknowledged by the author to be "rushed." Additionally, the Oregonian also hosts unscrupulous reporters who will completely cut you out of an interview when you do... too well in order to present a story the way they originally wished to envision it. When the Oregonian contacted us after the KPDX Group Media Bust, the reporter smugly threw criticisms at me from a local police officer. When I completely... fucking... slaughtered the criticisms, the reporter got defensive. Threw some spin at me. I knock that out of the park. Reporter panics a bit... "Can you call me back in half an hour? I need to get a response to what you're saying." I call back. Nothing. I call back every half an hour on the hour... nothing. Not a thing. No pickup. No return email from the reporter. Nothing. I killed the reporters angle and she had to go back to rewrite it. So what does she do? Include my comments in a balanced piece? No, she drops the PeeJ angle entirely and doesn't include one quote, not even a mention of doing the interview.

That's print. That's the tip of the iceberg. Print journalists often have this Pseudo-Canadian complex where they feel inferior because they're well... print. So they get pissed when you don't want to do phone interviews with them. I prefer to do print interviews by email, since I find that proper quoting seems to be allergic to most I've dealt with in the print field. So you either piss them off to ensure that you're quoted properly, or you talk to them on the phone, make them happy, and then they misquote you. Plus, print has horrendous deadlines. I can't recall the number of emails I've received from print sources saying "Deadline, call immediately!" Due to the nature of their job (which is a very tough job), they can't always plan things out that far in advance.

The worst part about print is that I find that often have a hidden agenda. Contrast that with say, Channel Whatever news. Channel Whatever news doesn't have an agenda. Their ratings are determined by feature stories that they work for quite a while on, or big events. Since we're not usually either of those, they simply report. After all, it's filler time for them. Gives them a weird objectivity I never would have noticed without having first-hand experience in doing these stories. Print though will often have an agenda. For example, a Cincinnati reporter covering the J. Robert Andrews arrest. This woman emails me, acts all buddy buddy. I do some digging in Cincy and find out that she's not exactly being on the up and up with me. This woman is a personal friend of Andrews. She's trying to do a piece that will defame us. We haven't had that experience with video or radio, only print. Only print has come in with an "angle" and stuck doggedly to it. Remember, these people are often trying to make or break their reputations with the attention they get. We all know of the New York Times scandals with Jayson Blair... that's the tip of the iceberg. Unlike video media where you move up based on presentation and objectivity is usually inherent (Save your occasional CBSnews screw-ups), print media advances on controversy and interest. Writing a by-the-numbers truthful piece isn't valued as "filler" for the paper, they want everything jacked up x10. That leads them to trust those who are lying to them, simply because they like what they're hearing from that person. It'll sell papers, it'll bring attention... etc, etc.

In my opinion, print media is easily the least ethical and noble media profession there is. For every great print reporter, there are ten that want to run salacity, silliness or outright lies in order to get notoriety for themselves.

I can't comment too much on magazine articles, because we don't do many. I have a feeling that there is little difference between your print newspaper reporters and magazine writers, but I could be wrong, considering the fact that most newspaper reporters wish to move up to magazine writers, perhaps there would be less focus on BS and more focus on content. Perhaps not. I simply don't have the experience to comment at this point. I also don't have much experience commenting on pre-tape radio, although I'm sure my comments will be much the same as those on pre-tape television since it's an area where you simply can't control the content of your message.

Overall, the most enjoyable media for me to do is where I get to debate someone, or handle "tough" questions. The "Bio" interviews and the "What" interviews are fine to do, but they don't offer that much of a difference between them. With interviews one would normally consider challenging, you get something to rise to, to strive for. It's more competitive, and I'm a very competitive person.

Despite my negative tone towards much of print media, I have greatly enjoyed the experience of doing so many interviews. It really affords you a look into the media process that you just can't get otherwise. When you get to see what quotes they use, how they use them, how they describe you (despite your answer when they ask for a description) and how certain words or images are used to slant public perception, you start to watch or read the news in a different way. It's very valuable, considering how dependent we are on these people for information.