Despre intervievat, cu Mike Sager

Textul de mai jos a fost scris de către Simina Mistreanu, editor asociat la Decât o Revistă și un om minunat, pentru cursul Interview Essentials din semestrul de primavara 2012, predat de Jacqui Banaszynski, la Missouri School of Journalism, unde Simina e studentă.

Tema era sa vorbesti cu un intervievator profesionist despre tehnicile si filosofia pe care le respecta atunci cand intervieveaza. Simina l-a intervievat pe Mike Sager, contributing writer la Esquire US și unul dintre invitații ediției din 2012 a The Power of Storytelling. Au vorbit pe Skype, timp de aproximativ o oră. Textul l-am păstrat în engleză de dragul acurateței conversației.

Mike va povesti și mai multe la conferință despre ce numește mai jos “suspension of disbelief” și despre tehnicile de documentare pe care le folosește.


I had a Skype interview with Mike Sager on Saturday, March 3. At the beginning of the conversation, he showed me his interviewing equipment. He uses an Olympus voice recorder and a few accessories: an earphone for phone conversations, a lavaliere microphone and a foot pedal for transcribing interviews.

Below are some of the things I learned from Sager, in his own words:

On transcribing:
Honestly, transcribing every single bit of tape has been one of the secrets of my success.

It often will take a couple of weeks to transcribe a story. Even to the point when now I”™m kind of old, and I have tendonitis, and I have help transcribing. So they do it, but I still listen to it all and read it and fix it wherever they missed. That process is usually about a third of my time spent on the entire story. I”™d say reporting is a third, and then transcribing is always a third, and then writing is a third. Usually, the writing is a little more rushed, so it”™s probably less than that. And that”™s really my favorite part.

On building rapport:
People say that my stories, it”™s almost like I do different accents. What I often do is I quote people without using quotes. I just use their words. That way I get all the terminology, and I can fluid in the person, and I can steep like a tea bag in the thing.

I evolved the technique of being like a reality-show camera. A lot of reporters are so hype; they go running in with all their questions prepared. I go in, and I don”™t ask anything. I”™m just really nice. And if something drops, I pick it up, and I buy lunch. I try to be friendly. I”™m just really interested. You know, mothers teach their daughters what to do on dates. I”™m just like the greatest date ever. Boy, girl, whatever you are, I”™m your great date.

And also, I”™m very observant. That”™s what I do, I just observe. It”™s like I”™m watching TV in 3D.

I know there”™s an incident that I need to know about. And then you know the general outline of the story, but what I just do is start in chronological order. And then, literally, I”™ve said to almost every single person I”™ve ever interviewed, “œSo you were born in a log cabin.”

It”™s sort of like foreplay. You don”™t jump right in, you got to warm him up. You have foreplay, you ask about their lives. It”™s easy for people to tell you that. That”™s what I do; I go through and I lead up to “œAnd so, then you shot him. Tell me about that day when you first got together with the guy.” Whatever, you know where you have to go, but just start at the beginning and ask the easy stuff.

You save your hardest questions till the end. I always do that with everybody.

On suspending disbelief:
I have this thing I call “œsuspension of disbelief.” At the time I met the Aryan Nations people who were hate mongers, who were against black people and Jews and all that kind of stuff, I”™m Jewish, and I was married to a black woman, and I had a kid who was half-and-half. I”™m going in there, and they”™re like “œAre you a Jew?” I”™m like “œNo, I”™m Italian.”

[But] the guy”™s wife is dying in the back cottage and I try to understand.

When you”™re doing these stories that are so deep and personal, the rules are even more stringent than any rules of man. These are the rules of God and the heart. If I follow those rules, then I never fuck up.

I”™ve been reporting this story for a year; I finally get the jailhouse interview with the killer. So what? I know he”™s going to have a horrible life; he”™s going to be in jail. And the Thai Buddhists that he killed, they believe he”™s going to have a thousand lifetimes of damnation. So why do I have to judge him, right? I”™m there to find out what it”™s like to be him. And he”™s like “œAnd then we shot him.” And I”™m like the same thing I say to my 10-year-old, my 18-year-old, whatever age: “œCool! What was that like?” And he told me: it made a gushing, bubbling sound, and he described what it”™s like to shoot someone in the head. We love these stories about death and dying. We just want one more detail. We want to know one step further. We know he killed them, but then we don”™t know anything else. What is it like?

On Mike Sager, the interviewer:
I”™m afraid to be lost, I don”™t like to go anywhere, I don”™t want to talk to anybody. But once I”™m there I have my fucking cape on, I”™m Superman. All these questions, all these emotions, all this strong shit. As a journalist, it gets in the way. Use the passion for the writing. But you”™re not going to be the same person if you shut the fuck up and listen for a minute and learn.

I think people are afraid to be wrong. As a journalist, that”™s my biggest strength ““ I”™m great at being an idiot. I don”™t have to be smart. I know what it takes to be able to listen. And like listen in a way that you”™re like, “œHoly shit, I never even thought of it that way.”

Often, what people need is just approval and an ear. And that I”™m really good at doing, and nodding my head and suspending my disbelief. Now, if they were a heinous criminal, at the end I have to ask that question, too. But I ask a “œHow does it feel to be you” kind of question instead of “œSociety”¦” I ask the real question.

I believe that Hitler”™s girlfriend, Eva Braun, probably liked something about him. It was something lovable about Hitler. If you want to write a really good Hitler character, then if he has a little goodness in him, then you feel bad that he”™s such an asshole instead of just wanting to kill the asshole. And that is drama.

I don”™t like [interviewing] at all. And every once in a while, I meet a really great person. I learned a lot from the real people. I end up liking that. It”™s very inconvenient and uncomfortable. It”™s like being in the greatest ride in the world when you”™re like suddenly in the middle of something.

Over the years, what this job has done more than anything is molded me into being a certain kind of person. I am the sum total of all the people I”™ve met. All the weird, fucking things that people have said to me and all the stuff that I”™ve done and the places I”™ve been, I am that person, I am not who I was when I began.


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