The Dead Art of Listening

Posted: February 22, 2012 in Personal
Tags: , , , ,

Last night I had the pleasure of sitting in on one of the best radio shows, The Paul Finebaum Radio Network, for my sports writing class with none other than Lars Anderson and Paul Finebaum.  Two legends in one room dispensing tons of great information and advice for upcoming journalists, where would I ever get this opportunity again?  At a previous internship in Atlanta, I had the opportunity to work alongside some staff members of Cumulus Media, but I never got the chance to actually see how a radio talk show works.  Mr. Finebaum has a method to his madness that shows why he’s the best to ever do it.  Sometimes he lets callers rant and rave, and other times he knows when to keep it moving forward and simply let the caller go.  While I enjoyed listening to the callers and listening to Anderson’s and Finebaum’s responses, I was mostly interested in his advice on reporting and interviewing.

Finebaum talked about how he got to be so great at interviewing.  He discussed how new or younger journalists don’t take advantage of the simple act of listening.  I find with my master’s project that I’m doing on tornado victims of Juanita Drive in Tuscaloosa that sometimes it’s not about going in with predetermined questions or angles.  Sometimes you just have to let them talk, and there will be an “aha” moment that will just happen naturally.  That’s how Finebaum scored, presumably, with Harvey Updyke.

We miss a lot of things when we’re trying to get questions answered, and a greater story could be overlooked.  I think Finebaum’s unorthodox advice makes a lot of sense, and he talked about being prepared for interviews but not letting the questions dictate the interview.  He and Lars both agreed that establishing that rapport first and just talking about life in general was the best way to get people to open up.

I learned a lot in two hours from two greats in sports and journalism about writing, reporting, and interviewing.  I still can’t believe I get to sit every Tuesday with Lars Anderson from Sports Illustrated!  The tornado piece he did for SI was one of the main inspirations for my master’s project, and if I could just tell the stories of the Juanita Drive residents half as good as he did, then I’ll be proud.  The first thing, however, is to just listen to what they have to say.

Check out the audio from last night’s show here.

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Comments
  1. ehilkert says:

    Michelle,

    Nice post. I agree that the University of Alabama is really lucky to have Lars Anderson. Taking his class last Spring semester was a truly great experience. Lars is the nicest guy too. And I made it a point to tell him how outstanding the Tuscaloosa tornado cover was.

    Yeah, having hosted multiple radio shows in my undergraduate days was an invaluable experience. Looking back now, I realize I was hit and miss. I can say from experience that it’s much more difficult to interview someone live on radio than for a print article. Some radio shows are taped and that’s why they sound so polished (NPR anyone?). But Finebaum is a true vet and he is right on the money. I almost always followed my script and asked the questions I had prepared. I was too nervous to do otherwise. But the veteran is not afraid to take the live interview where it needs to go, and not where you had planned for it to go. As I said, it’s much easier to do that for print articles. One of the difficult parts for print is editing the quotes and figuring which ones to keep and which ones to throw away, but listening is still an essential element. One thing I did do well is do my research before hand. I agree with Finebaum that listening is among the most critical elements, but doing thorough research can really enhance an interview. I asked a lot of questions that impressed my interviewees because they realize I really care about them and I cared about putting together a good interview.

    Gosh, I think I can go on and on, but should probably write my own post. Thanks for bringing up an interesting and important subject.

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