Report on Interview Techniques

The key element of each of these journalist’s interviews is they target their interviewees emotions, knowing human nature will dictate their response. For example, Louis Theroux will try and either make the interviewee feel uncomfortable or emotional, for instance, in the Fresno documentary, he confronts Kevin as he is concerned about the children being in close proximity with the drug use of Kevin and his friends. On the other hand, Jeremy Paxman goes for the opposite effect, and goes out to provoke an emotive reply with aggressive and direct questioning. In an interview with Russell Brand, following the comedians guest editorial of a political magazine, he would constantly question Brand’s credentials for such a job. In another interview, Paxman argued Conrad Black, in the eyes of the law, was a criminal, something the Canadian disputed.

In the interview with Russell Brand, Paxman uses a mixture of question types. He opens with: “Russell Brand, who are you to edit a political magazine?”, with this being an open and direct question, designed to allow Brand to reply with a detailed justification to why he’s the right person to edit this type of publication.

He then follows up this open question with an equally direct, closed one when he asks: “But is it true you don’t even vote?”. I consider this a closed question because the way it is worded will only allow Brand to answer simply, which he does: “Yeah, no, I don’t vote.”

Paxman then uses open questions, but also just debates without using questions to get replies:

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Interview transcript (click to zoom)

The transcript below shows a trademark Theroux interview template. He opens with a basic open question in order to get a lot of information, to which he replies with a direct, closed question, in this case, to clarify what the interviewee says.

This questions gradually get more direct, but remain open, until the last few questions where he is fairly leading, in this case, he makes William admit what he does is not quite legal:

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Transcript of Louis Theroux’s interview with William from Mapogo

When it comes to body language, because he is tall, Theroux adopts a reclined stance so he doesn’t appear overbearing to his interviewee; He remains relaxed in most situations, regardless of his real emotions:

Theroux talking to Shirley Phelps in the Most Hated Family In America documentary

Theroux talking to Shirley Phelps in the Most Hated Family In America documentary

Paxman combines two opposites in his body language. In the interview with Conrad Black he initially looked relaxed sitting back on his chair, but as the exchange gets heated he sat forward and starts pointing his finger to emphasise his point in a more aggressive manner.

Paxman in a relaxed (L) and aggressive (R) stance while interviewing Conrad Black

Paxman in a relaxed (L) and aggressive (R) stance while interviewing Conrad Black

With his more aggressive interviewing style, it’s evident Paxman doesn’t attempt to create rapport.

Theroux however, will go out of his way to create a rapport with the person he is interviewing. He does this is by listening to what the interviewee says and genuinely takes an interest. Another way is by getting involved, for instance, when investigating gambling, he joins in towards the end, and after winning, appears to have become slightly enticed by the fact he had won so much.


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