Sunday, January 08, 2012

Opening a Space

I was listening to an interview with Italian historian Alessandro Portelli, and he was talking about oral history interviews. He said, "Think of the interview as opening a space."

That is exactly what it boils down to. The memorable story you get at an interview is rarely the one you went in expecting. Of course, if you have a list of prepared questions and don't venture beyond them, you'll never hear that story.

Just this past week I was interviewing someone and although he was a bit reticent at first, as we talked more he opened up and told me some wonderful stories. The space was open, and he walked into it.

It's quite an extraordinary thing when people tell you their stories. I always view it as a precious moment when people share, and I treat their stories with great respect. What could be more personal than someone's story. A truly generous gift.

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sigerson said...

I believe that young journalists often fail to listen during an interview. They're so nervous and so determined to get their questions in that they don't pay attention to a wonderful comment that begs for a follow-up question -- a great question that was not on their list. It just takes experience and being comfortable enough to make it a conversation and not an interrogation.

Patsy Terrell said...

I agree. It's a common problem. So many missed opportunities because people aren't listening.