I have to admit I was a little worried this morning when my car started to emit a shrill and urgent noise as it approached Chatham.

It turned out to be the radio, struggling to reach the whistle-tone frequency of Mishal Hussain's interview with deputy PM Nick Clegg on Radio 4's Today  (available on iPlayer, if you missed it).

Her determination to ensure Mr Clegg would not get a word in made me think about the interviewing advice Ron and I gave to our new recruits last week.

Make it a conversation, we said. Put the interviewee at ease, ask straightforward questions and react to their responses. Ron, as ever, put it best: "The interview is about them, not you."

Were we encouraging trainee journalists to be too soft? Political interviewers have in the past taken the opposite view - make your target uncomfortable; keep shifting tack and tone; attack, attack, attack! But perhaps even in the febrile atmosphere of national politics the tide is turning.

Last week the new editor of Newsnight, Ian Katz, revealed his own frustration with the confrontational interview style associated with the show's former host, Jeremy Paxman.

In the Financial Times, he said: "A large proportion of political interviews - maybe even most - are boring snoring.

"The predominance of an aggressive style characterised by the dictum 'why is this lying bastard lying to me?' - and the survival strategies that politicians have developed in response to it - have locked both sides into what economists call a 'tragedy of the commons'."

Listen to this morning's interview with Nick Clegg. Notice, in particular, how often the deputy prime minister was cut off only to be challenged with vague accusations that "the people" (which ones?) are either confused, mystified or put off by something the Liberal Democrats are doing.

Whoever these people are, they may feel the same way about journalists.

Is it time to try engaging politicians - and all interviewees -  in more open and enlightening conversations? It can't hurt to try.


Actually I thought Mishal Hussain handled the Clegg interview pretty well this morning. I particularly enjoyed her asking him to define the LibDems without referring to any other party - and his singular inability to do so.

But for an alternative approach for radio interviews, students should take a listen to the chat between Radio 5 Live's peerless veteran Peter Allen and Radio 4's Eddie Mair on the PM Programme last week. I've put a brief clip here.

In it, Allen describes his masterful use of the interjection 'Hmmmm' to undermine  dissembling interview subjects. It's all in the tone.

Ian Reeves is head of the Centre for Journalism

Laura Garcia's picture

I once heard this approach in a lecture by Donna Decesare, a documentary filmmaker from Austin, TX. She always allows an awkward 5 secs of silence after her interviewee has answered something that could potentially be emotional, but they are trying to hide/ have practiced too much. She would just wold an empathic smile and look at their interviewee.

People's innate need to fill awkard silence would trigger an imediate emotional/unthought response just to avoide the dead silence. You would be surprised at the kinds of things people reveal when being presented with a couple of secs of silence and a nice smile. Once that first door is open, it's all downhill from there. 

Granted this approach doesn't work for LIVE broadcasting. Five seconds of dead air would be the death of any producer but it is really effective during pre-recorded interviews where you can edit out the "awkard" and just keep the good bits. 

Laura Garcia

Graduate Teaching Assistant and hopeless nerd - @lauragrb

The art of interviewing