Just whose story are we telling, anyway?

I wish I had a copy of “Postmodern Interviewing” handy as an undergraduate because, boy, it sure would’ve helped in my journalism courses. Although I practiced the news story structure over and over and over again, we never received more than a handout’s worth of instruction for interviewing. Hence, I usually relied on a list of questions to blaze through with an interviewee. I never considered an interview to be a conversation, as Jaber Gubrium writes in his book. When the interviewer and interviewee are speaking to each other, they are both actively creating the content of the interview. For example, Gubrium describes mutual disclosure as “an occasion that displays the interviewer’s willingness to share his or her own feelings and deepest thoughts (72).” By building a rapport with the respondents in such a way, they are more likely to reciprocate their own feelings about the subject at hand (something I never knew before).

Gubrium raises the question of whose story we actually tell, the respondent’s or all those who have shared experience with the respondent, when we interview them. Dr. Wolff posed this question to the class, as well, and I’d like to take a stab at it.

In the fall of 2011, Anderson Cooper ran a week-long series on bullying issues in the U.S. largely in response to the death of Tyler Clemente, a Rutgers student who committed suicide after his roommate streamed a video of him kissing another man in his dormitory unbeknownst to him. He interviewed boys and girls of all ages, from middle school kids who were bullied for their sexual orientation, weight, appearance, etc. Because Clemente’s death was so tragic, Cooper and CNN felt compelled to highlight the issue of bullying to prevent other children from suffering the torture of being bullied by their peers. The story of Tyler Clemente, in conjunction with the stories of the brave children who shared their experiences on national TV, told the story of all victims of bullying. And, as with all excellent reporting, the feature made us realize that the issue demanded our attention.

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One response to “Just whose story are we telling, anyway?

  1. Hi Wayne,
    To expand a little on your comment about needing the book for a journalism class…
    When AC does interview-things like the Tyler Clemente piece, can we still consider him a journalist? Like you said, CNN wanted to highlight the issue of bullying. But that’s not really reporting the news. That said, there’s nothing wrong with applying the same interviewing skills and techniques to different genres. Neither does journalism have to be a practice free of empathy – still, I often question the “news” value of the television’s supposedly news content.
    Hopefully that makes sense… it’s getting late and I worked all weekend. See you on Tuesday!
    -Amelia

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