With more than a decade of journalism experience, I can easily rank my hardest interviews. Top three, in a very particular order:
- Mental health legal expert
- Ethan Stone, age 7
- The architect of the legal argument against the Affordable Care Act, which was used in the 2012 Supreme Court case
I’ve come to the conclusion that #1 just hated me. The person didn’t like my questions, didn’t want to answer them and then proceeded to ignore and talk over me for an awkward full hour interview. Number 3 was an extremely intelligent, kind man. Not his fault. I was just out of my depth.
Number 2 though, he’s tricky. Hey buddy! How was your day? “Awesome!” What happened? “Uh, I don’t know.” What did you learn today? “Um, let me think about it.” <45 very long, silent seconds tick by> “I don’t remember.”
My child is iron-clad. Sign him up for the NSA now. He’ll never be the leak.
Unlike my other reporting experiences, however, I get second and third chances to improve the interview. Be more specific, I think to myself. It’s just Journalism 101. It’s easy. Don’t be so vague. Did you have fun at school today?
<huge sigh> “Mommy, you always ask the same questions.” Wait, did I just detect an eye roll? This isn’t going well. My palms are starting to sweat. Move on quickly before he cuts this interview off.
What was the best part of your day? “Recess.” Ah, we’re getting somewhere! I’m making this subject crack.
Who did you play with? “I don’t know.” Crap, I’ve lost him again, but I can recover. I’m a trained professional, damn it! If you’re only going to get a few minutes, get straight to the meat of the story. None of these filler questions to ease him in.
What new things did your teacher show you? “Fleas. I don’t like it.” Fleas? I’m confused. Why would you learn about fleas? Is this a bug unit? Oh no, I came in unprepared. I should have done more background research with his school schedule. “No, FLES. All she does is speak Spanish.” Oh, Foreign Language in Elementary School. Of course it’s an acronym. He’s 7 and living in the D.C. area. In fact, all the other Arlington kids are probably two years ahead because they were signed up for some Acronym Immersion Program (AIP, for short, I’m sure) at age 5.
Snap back, Thai Phi. Get out of your own head. You’re pulling into the driveway, and he’s staring out the window.
Why didn’t you like Spanish? “Can I watch Teen Titans Go?” <hops out of car and slams door> And he’s gone.
Well at least I have the teen. Hey Avery! How was school? “It was dank.” Hmm…I should have brought a translator to this interview.