Boundaries and the Media…Interviewing 101

This entry will be quick. Once again, I’m watching the Today Show and Matt Lauer is interviewing a mother/wife who lost parts of her leg saving her children during the recent tornado in Kentucky. During the interview, Matt begins to talk to Stephanie Decker, the mother, about the special, private and personal message she left for her husband. So…the story is…she knows that she has been seriously injured, she may not make it, and she takes out her phone and records a very personal message to her husband who is obviously not there during the tornado. Matt asks the husband if he listened to it yet. The husband replies, no, he is not ready to hear it and it’s going to be a long time before he listens to it.  It’s basically just too hard for him to listen to right now.

Interviewing Techniques No-Nos 101:  So now, there is an opportunity that suddenly emerges because, being the reader that he is, Matt realizes instantly that there is an emotion there that is hidden behind a wall, a wall that needs to be cracked. A boundary that needs to be challenged rather than respected in Matt’s eyes. So, Matt goes for it and basically tries to get the husband to still open up about it by saying something like, “well, you have to feel pretty good knowing that your wife did this for you, thought of you at the end of it all.” The husband replies, yes. But the husband doesn’t crack. Well, that didn’t work for Matt so what does he do? Does he leave it alone? No, he then tries the wife. “Can you tell us a little bit about what you said in the recording to your husband? Can you share some of it with us?” (paraphrasing) The woman responds by saying no, that it is something that she basically doesn’t want to share and in fact, she doesn’t remember a whole lot of it. You can tell that both she and her husband felt a little uncomfortable with attempts of exposing their feelings at a vulnerable moment. And we wonder why the public doesn’t always trust the media?

How awkward they must have felt to be on national and international tv facing a private, personal moment that was not being respected. Matt Lauer, over the years, has developed an insensitivity to subjects and their stories in the name of “good journalism.” He has forgotten a code of ethic that says minimize harm. He continues to disrespect the boundaries of individuals he interviews. He did this with Kanye as well and others. He has felt the disillusioned power of the media because he doesnt’ realize that this power is not always a self-driven reality, but merely a well-constructed apparatus of power that has to be driven by an initiator. In this case, himself.

Sometimes, as a journalist, you have to push the boundaries, but when it comes to something personal that does not affect the lives of the audience and their safety, then it should be left alone in my professional opinion. When interviewing, we must remember that our subjects are people too who deserve respect, who deserve their boundaries to be respected and not be treated like a guinea pig in an experiment used to see if “I can get you to crack.” Remember, the subject and THEIR story is what’s important, not the journalist.

Watch the interview here for yourself. I say job well done to the Decker family. Job well done.

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