An economic argument for why TV is full of loud, in-your-face journalists

Ubs writes:

A TV journalist’s career success is strongly correlated to how well-known he is to the audience, which in turn is strongly correlated to how much face time he gets. When you watch an interview on TV, if most of what you see are is person being interviewed, you won’t remember the journalist so much. If more of your time is devoted to watching and hearing the interviewer talk, he’ll be more recognizable next time. The latter probably does not make for a better interview, but it does make for a better chance of the journalist getting more gigs.

Quite likely, some ambitious journalists are well aware of this and they make a concerted effort to maximize their face time in furtherance of their careers. But even if they don’t do it on purpose, the result is the same. If some journalists tend to hog the screen just by natural inclination, those hogs are going to become better-known; that will get them more gigs, which will make them even more well-known, driving out the meeker journalists who prefer to let the interviewee do most of the talking.

Ubs continues:

This is why we have a news media full of obnoxious TV journalists who hound their guests with stupid and unanswerable “gotcha” questions. This is why, on the rare occasion that a guest actually tries to explain something with more than one sentence, the interviewer loudly interrupts, “Stop dodging the question, Senator. Give me an answer, yes or no!” This interruption is essential to the interviewer’s viability as a journalist. Without it, the camera might stay off him for more than ten precious seconds.

His solution:

With that in mind, I want to make a deal with the journalists: Let’s agree that from now on the TV cameras will always be pointed at the guy who isn’t talking. I realize that’s stupid. Obviously, I’d rather see the facial expression of the person who is saying something. But if that’s the price we have to pay to get journalists to shut the hell up and let the guest talk, it would be worth it.

There’s gotta be a better way . . .

5 thoughts on “An economic argument for why TV is full of loud, in-your-face journalists

  1. "This is why, on the rare occasion that a guest actually tries to explain something with more than one sentence, the interviewer loudly interrupts, "Stop dodging the question, Senator. "

    I dispute his supporting point as false. In my experience, the tendency of politicians is to come on to these shows and push their message rather than answering the question. If his commentators are just not letting politicians actually answer maybe he should watch better interviewers?

    Just the other day I was watching the spokesperson from the RNC on CNN. And all I learned from this spokesperson was that Republicans can't actually answer a question.

    He answered the first three questions with the same answer; it was clearly a canned "on message" approach to the interview. But he was doing it so blantantly the questions themselves really had no particularly impact on the answers he was giving.

    By the third time, I was thinking, "Just tell him if he doesn't want to answer the question you can never come back. You are wasting our time!" But nobody says that; and this particular interviewer wasn't CNNs A-list crew, so she didn't see that it was time to jump in and get this guy out of commercial mode.

    So anyway that's what I learned from the RNC spokesperson: Republicans cannot actually answer questions.

    And also I learned why journalist need to step in and keep these guys on topic. Because if you let them, it is in most of these politicians interest to stick to their topic points in the air time and not actually… answer the question.

  2. I quite like watching interviews by Charlie Rose on NPR, and he doesn't seem to fit the bill for your hypothesis. He seems to have sufficient brand recognition (I think – lot of my friends know of and watch his show), and he can be assertive when required but I have rarely seem him be obnoxious like the prime-time prima donnas. And he has interviewed some difficult political animals – ranging from Henry Paulson to Chinese party officials. Perhaps its just a relatively recent phenomenon – competition amongst all channels to be seen as fierce driven by the emergence of militant channels like Fox News.

  3. I think it's really up the editors – not the presenters. We have a guy called Paxman over here on our Newsnight program, he's possibly the most annoying interviewer I've come accross, but equally some people think he is the best thing since sliced bread. The interviewer often "gets away with being in your face" because they often pick stories which split the public – so you'll always have some tabloid supporting you the next day anyhow. The issue is one of professionalism – and unfortunatley there are elements of the media who seem to lack it.

    So I guess there should be a media professional society – and if you behave like these brash presenters do on occasion you get kicked out of it, and thus (it would be hoped) lose respect, and in turn earning potential. All it would take is a few major names to get that treatment – and all this aggresive presenting behaviour would come to an end.

  4. If his commentators are just not letting politicians actually answer maybe he should watch better interviewers?

    No, I should watch better interviewees. If the guest is determined to make a speech, I want to hear him make his speech. If the speech is boring, then the guest is boring and I don't want to see him given air next time. But I don't want to see the interviewer try to hound him into saying something he doesn't want to say. Let the guest say what he wants, and then judge him by what he says.

    I do like Charlie Rose. I like the C-Span book interviews, too. They're the exceptions.

  5. Nobody does that though. "No more senator X he doesn't cooperate. No more spokes person for the Republican National Committee. He doesn't cooperate." That is a good way to not have a show! And besides what right does a politician have to subvert private commercial airtime to a speech if the host doesn't agree to provide that the time for that purpose?

    You could easily view it another way in that if a politician just doesn't want to answer questions then they don't have to come on the air.

    Here is the issue. When an author, a low level business person, Andrew, and a musician agrees to be interviewed their purpose is to be interviewed. They are actually submitting to the interview process. And if they don't want to be interviewed they simply decline.

    When you see those interviews you get questions and usually revealing answers to the actual questions. Its a whole different ball game. Read an interview with a musician and how well they address questions and it is viscerially different than reading an interview with an active politician.

    When a politician agrees to be interviewed they don't want to be interviewed. They know better. They don't want to hang a campaign on the tone an interviewer sets. They need the time on TV, but they surely don't need a question and answer session that arn't questions beneficial to themselves. They don't want to submit the questions of a TV personality that doesn't have to get elected.

    What they want to do is stay on message and answering questions they do not select (eg being interviewed) is not consistant with that goal. .

    So the interviewer has the job of making an interview out of someone that doesn't really want to be interviewed. And the politician has the job of getting a message out and avoiding those interview questions that are inconsistant with the message.

    And we all see the game. And its not the TV personalities fault. The politicians agree to take interviews they really arn't interested in doing.

    And the result is entirely different than with people genuinely agreeing to be interviewed…

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