Everybody’s talking… Or why some interviews are like herding cats

Recently I got to interview one of my all-time heroes. It was an amazing moment for me to get to chat with the person who played a character I loved in films which defined my childhood.

When we spoke to, we were discussing a specific programme which is screening soon with the sole purpose of a feature promoting the programme.

As with many interviews, there was a PR on the line also, which always takes something of the intimacy and immediacy away from a  call anyway. But the interview was made all the more

Cats
Herd us. Go on, dare you.

tricky because of the actor’s insatiable appetite for conversation.

From politics to social problems to family values, they took more than an hour to take me through their entire platform of ideas. It was interesting, information and incredibly exciting, but with such a tight brief on my piece, so much of it was unusable.

When I asked about the programme, they were happy to say a couple of lines then reverted

back to a soap box which would then occupy the next 10 minutes, with some incendiary comments thrown in there.

I’m not sure how other journalists handle this sort of meandering, cat-herding chat. Is it somewhere you take the excess material and make something else of it, perhaps if you feel there’s a news line? Or do you just chalk it up to an interesting discussion with an eccentric character?

When we were signing off, I swear the PR sounded as if he may have drifted off, which only served to make my acute self awareness even worse – and wonder if he would have handled it differently.

An hour spent on the phone, a chat which has given me lots of food for thought has, in essence, given me just 2,000 words for my feature, so perhaps it’s just best filed under a good life experience.

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Timing is everything… Or why Doctor Who press day lacked something unique

Western Mail Week End magazine, November 16 2013
Western Mail Week End magazine, November 16 2013

This weekend sees the unleashing of a piece that’s been while in the making.

The Western Mail Week End magazine is carrying my piece on the 50th anniversary episode of Doctor Who, The Day of the Doctor.

Amongst Whovians, the event has been one of note for many months, and it was pretty high on my calendar as well, as in April I got to go on a press call to the Roath Lock studios on Cardiff.

Although not a Who fan, I appreciated the chance to speak to some of the team behind one of BBC Wales’ biggest successes to date, and it was definitely educational.

Numerous teams of eager journalists – around eight to 12 in each group – were taken round some parts  of the set and then into interview rooms by patient press officers.

We met with Steven Moffat – the series writer and executive producer – as well as current Doctor Matt Smith, his predecessor David Tennant, Jenna-Louise Coleman, who plays Smith’s companion Clara, and Joanna Page, the Mumbles actress famous for Gavin and Stacey, who pops up here as Elizabeth I.

Anyway, more of all that in the feature, which is here. But you understand from the preamble that the whole thing is therefore of some vintage.

The issue for a journalist is that the material is embargoed. Not unusual in and of itself, but the ban on broadcast lapsed on November 12, and, thanks to the publication dates of the magazine, we have sat on the material for four extra days, for our print and online versions to run it concurrently on November 16.

Couple with that the fact that some of the other publications and sites which were party to the set visit appear to have jumped the gun slightly in terms of their release dates and you have a piece by me which is slightly less than exclusive.

Is there any way to get added value out of press days? It always strikes me as strange – we file into the same room and record the same interviews from the same people, so there is bound to be crossover.

Where I have pulled together interviews with those mentioned above into a 3,000 word piece about the phenomenon of Doctor Who after 50 years, some other sites have put up straightforward transcripts of the interviews in questions.

OK, so they’re not adding editorial value, but is that what fans want would rather have, just the words of their heroes?

I have just had a concern that the format isn’t offering the best in terms of content.

For the production company or channel, of course they’re a big bonus – screeds of material appearing across different platforms which is almost pre-vetted en masse as press folk have been in on the chats. But I’m not convinced that best serves the readers.

Any thoughts?