Asking Questions

By Beacon Staff

I’m mad as Hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.

Spoken by newscaster Howard Beale as part of an on-air monologue in the 1976 movie classic “Network,” it seems so fitting as part of my reaction to journalists who have forgotten, or maybe never learned, how to ask a question.

Yes, a question instead of stating what they believe to be a fact and looking to the interview subject with anticipation to pick up on the comment.

That’s bad enough but then there’s the crutch that has overtaken the radio and television airways: “Tell me about.”

Now I don’t profess to be the most qualified critic, but I do pay attention to those in my craft who perform admirably under the most difficult of situations. For example, when news becomes a part of a live sporting event, like in the 1989 earthquake during the World Series game in San Francisco or, worse yet, the 1976 Munich Olympic Games.

Will anyone ever forget Jim McKay looking solemnly into the camera to say, “they’re all gone,” in reference to members of the Israeli Olympic team killed by a Palestinian group?

This trait of not asking a question, which I often catch myself doing, especially during pre-game and post-game interviews, also has made its way into print circles and not just in sports. And it is the “tell me about …” syndrome that is driving me bonkers.

Reporters shouldn’t place the onus on the interviewee but rather assume the pressure themselves to form a question in such a way to get the best possible answer.

To not do so is just plain lazy and will condemn you to spend the remainder of your career about where it began.

Now it’s laughable that I say that since I have only worked in two markets myself, but that’s been my choice and I hope no reflection on my style or interview prowess.

I often wonder what interview subjects are thinking when a reporter conducts such an interview. Usually, they just want to get it over anyway and they figure it gives them an opportunity to frame the direction in which the interview proceeds.

I have interviewed about every kind of subject because early on I discovered that there would be far more jobs in my occupation if I was comfortable as a news reporter rather than one just known for sports.

I had a laughable situation when the Grizzlies were playing Hofstra a decade ago when the New York governor showed up at the booth next door absolutely panicking the radio crew as I heard them call the studio to find out what they might ask him.

I quickly suggested maybe they should just let him come over to the Montana booth because we had plenty to ask George Pataki.

I definitely term my interview style as conversational rather than confrontational and I pride myself on getting the substance just as effectively as the other guy.

But I have rededicated myself to remember: Ask a question and stop using that “tell me about” crutch.

And, yes, I would also like the radio signal synched with the television pictures, but let’s just say it’s out of my wheelhouse.

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