John Humphries is a well respected journalist and broadcaster. As one of the long-standing presenters of Radio Four’s Today programme he has a fearsome reputation as an interviewer.
He’s well know for never letting anyone off the hook and for constantly interrupting.
Personally I don’t think that reputation for savagery is entirely deserved. He is measured, highly intelligent and fair, and his reports when he gets out of the studio are always excellent – I have the utmost respect for him as a journalist.
Granted, he does interrupt during an awful lot of interviews, but these tend to be his interviews with politicians (which are of course are staple guests on the Today programme), where he is essentially holding them to account on our behalf and where he knows they are extremely skilled at not answering a journalist’s questions.
However, this is not the case at all in many of his interviews. Listen to this interview John Humphries did with Richard Dawkins about a speech by the Archbishop of Westminster Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor.
He doesn’t interrupt at all, and in fact discusses the reasons why he wouldn’t interrupt an interviewee talking about their beliefs.
There are in fact several reasons why a journalist will interrupt during an interview:
1. You are not answering the question
2. You’re taking too long to get to the point of your answer (in other words, rambling)
3. They have several areas to cover in the interview and want to move the interview onto these
4. The time allotted for interview is very short
5. They are receiving new information through their earpiece from their producer or the producer is telling them to ask a different question
The way to tackle this, and avoid interruptions, is to prepare for the interview well, know the key points you want to make, and make them right from the start, keeping your answers interesting, compelling – and fairly succinct (don’t ramble!).
If it’s a broadcast interview, make sure you ask how long the interview is scheduled for – though remember, in a live programme, this is always subject to change.
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