Monday, September 20, 2004

Thoughts On The Interview

Not much blogging tonight. Work picked up today at the same time my body decided to celebrate the end of summer by catching my final summer cold of the season.

Some thoughts about the Mitch Berg interview (Which you should read if you haven’t yet. Mitch is more interesting than anything I have to say tonight)…

First and foremost, it was fun and interesting. People actually get paid to do this? Admittedly, I stacked the deck in my favor. Mitch is an interesting guy, and a good conversationalist. Those combined for a pretty painless interview process.

This is not to say there was no pain in getting it published to my blog.

Rookie mistake: I picked up the first digital recording device I could find, and did little testing of it. It turned out to be a poor choice. The sound quality was terrible. And while it had the ability to pause, rewind a couple of seconds, and play back – which are the basics I needed – it had the annoying quality of jumping back to the very beginning of the interview if I pressed the rewind button too hard (I think that’s supposed to be a “feature”), and there is no similarly quick way to return to the spot I just left. And when paused, it skips about a second ahead when restarted. Seems like no big deal… until you combine that with the terrible sound quality, because of which I had to replay 2 or 3 second sequences over repeatedly to try to decipher what some word or phrase was.

I also didn’t respect the fact that the background noise inside Keegan’s would be a factor. The place was filling up as we approached the dinner hour during the interview. Just a general background murmer to our ears. But a very noticeable presense on the recording, making it very challenging to hear Mitch at times; especially in the latter stages of the interview.

Yet for all that pain, I’m happy with it. I would not compromise the style – face to face talking over a beer – to compensate for the equipment and typing challenges. I wanted it to be relaxed and conversational. If we had done it over an online chat session it would have saved me a ton of time transcribing, but I don’t think it would have produced the same sort of interview at all. And if I had sealed us in a sound booth, rather than conversing in a friendly pub, that would have changed the feeling as well. So I think the answer going forward will be to find better equipment.

I had some fairly simple goals going into this, and I think I accomplished them. I wanted the resulting interview to be something I would enjoy reading. And I do. I wanted to keep myself out of the interview as much as possible (it wasn’t supposed to be about me – just Mitch). And with perhaps a couple of exceptions, I think I did. And I wanted to capture a sort of stream-of-conscious meandering with Mitch thinking through things freshly, rather than getting canned responses. And I think that one happened as well.

I’ve gotten a couple of inquiries about why I’m doing this. And the short version is, because no one else did.

The long version stems from the Rather-gate thing. With much discussion of the blogosphere assuming traditional media roles as needed, I remember having an “ah-ha” moment when the INDC Journal took the initiative and called up its own document expert when the mainstream press was still asleep at the wheel. Surely not the first case where a blogger successfully took on the role of the professional media. But for some reason that one really hit me. I realized it doesn’t have to be just about pressuring the old media to write the stories you want to see. If they don’t write it, why shouldn’t a blogger step in and do it?

Later that week I was listening to the NARN guys filling in for Prager. And I thought it would be really interesting to read an article to get the perspective of some of these guys at the heart of this new media storm. Find out how this wild roller-coaster ride – from sleepy backwater blogs to national media figures - seemed to them. But all the articles I found covered only a tiny little slice. They also seemed stupidly stuck rehashing Blogging 101, and never going much deeper. And something just clicked in my mind. These guys weren’t writing from the far side of the moon. They live here in town. I’ve had beers with a couple of them. So why not use that and, in my own way, do what INDC Journal did. I didn’t see a story I wanted to read, so why not roll up my sleeves and write it myself?

I knew Mitch a bit better than any of the others (not that we’re terribly close or anything, but it was a start), so I picked him as my starting point (and hopefully not also the ending point). I shot him an e-mail. We hashed out the when and where. And that was it.

Kind of funny when I read it in retrospect, and observe how I approached this. I have no formal journalism training. But I do have a modest academic background in anthropology and history. Looking at the way I tried to steer things, I definitely felt more comfortable just letting the interviewee talk and talk, and take off in any direction he wanted without interruption. That’s sort of how I’d do an ethnography interview for a cultural anthropology assignment. You never know when someone is going to reveal something important you would have never thought to ask about, due to your lack of understanding of the culture under study, so you try not to interrupt. The history interest comes out more in choosing the topic. Unlike a journalist, I didn’t care so much about reporting the hard news. I wanted to get a feel for what it was like to live through such interesting times. This is the sort of interview I’ll enjoy looking back and reading years from now to remember what it was like as the blogosphere was emerging in late 2004.

I hope more of the Northern Alliance guys agree to sit down for more of these. The transcribing is painful, but the end result made it seem very worthwhile. I hope those reading it got something out of it too.

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