Bloggingheads with Douthat

by Henry Farrell on May 23, 2007

I have a new “bloggingheads”: up with Ross Douthat- we spend the hour discussing the parlous state of American conservatism. Looking through the early comments, I get some well deserved grief for my tv manner. I find it hard to concentrate on a webcam, and I have a terrible habit of clicking randomly around on a computer when I am talking to someone or thinking (I’m one of those people who find the new _New York Times_ ‘helpful’ feature of pulling up a dictionary when you click on a random word, _really annoying_ ) I also have some academic tics; viz. I don’t interrupt people very often (interruption is considered pretty rude in a seminar). And I’m sure there’s more. It would be interesting to hear from readers with media experience about dos and don’ts of live TV or its cheapo webbed cousins. What kinds of things should you do? Should you not do? (I remember Brad DeLong had some tips on how to prepare yourself for TV interviews a long while ago, but I can’t find them).



Adam Kotsko 05.23.07 at 3:49 pm

We need to start a letter-writing campaign about the NY Times “dictionary” feature. They already have links to news stories for certain names (including overly broad ones like “Republican”), which makes it even more redundant and annoying.


Alex R 05.23.07 at 3:55 pm

Bring Back Free Clicking!

(FWIW, you can restore free clicking by blocking the following page in something like AdBlock: )


Joel Turnipseed 05.23.07 at 4:23 pm


I seem to remember getting savaged for providing talking points from my own (truly helpful) media training/experience here before, but here goes:

1) Practice, practice, practice saying what you want to say in a few short sentences. Then use the responses you’ve articulated in practice as a kind of “answer jukebox.” This doesn’t mean you have to go all White House Spokesman in giving pat answers, but it does mean that you’ve a) already practiced at delivering concise answers to questions and b) you’re better able to craft linking statements/redirections/clarifications that build around those to answer questions in an articulate manner without a lot of “umming” and “awing.”

2) Be attentive to the format. While I’ll never do a morning shock jock show again, there’s a big difference between the local market news segment and the hour-long NPR interview.

3) Prepare to be thrown a curve ball, asked stupid questions, etcetera. Some of my worst performances came when I rebelled (at least internally) against perceived slights, imcomprehension, etcetera. Watching The Colbert Report is instructive in this regard: the best guests do one of two things: stick to their guns with a zen-like aplomb or, if they’re fast on their feet, run with the Colbert Schtick. Still, the host is always at an advantage, since the show is their format and a format they’ve likely spent years (if not decades) learning. The Colbert-Penn “Metafreeforall” was a good case in point: Penn actually looked stiff and amateurish compared to Colbert–and he’s a pro.

4) Pay attention to pre-interviews! The questions the producers are asking you are a key to what they’re looking for in a show.

5) Expect that you’re playing, if you’re playing it, the mass media game. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to do it. But if you’re invited on a show, you were probably invited on for a reason (that is, you’re playing a role)–to the extent that you can shape that role to what you have to say (and vice-versa), you’ll come off looking professional and intelligent (rather than, say, squirrely). Participating in the mass media can be a truly frustrating, undignified business: Sitting in satellite hook-up sets for half an hour in make-up and then getting bumped, being asked questions that seem (are!) astoundingly stupid and ill-informed, being given no time for second or ancillary thoughts, etcetera–all things that should never happen in civilized discourse. But mass media isn’t civilized discourse: it’s an incredibly expensive, complex, chaotic business.

6) Never, ever, never interject jokes about Fassbinder films into mass media interviews (or, for that matter, try to explain Socrates’ Unity of the Virtues thesis to a NYT reporter).


Sk 05.23.07 at 5:17 pm

Really? You spent an hour criticizing the state of American conservatism? Why the sudden branching out?



Kieran Healy 05.23.07 at 8:47 pm

interruption is considered pretty rude in a seminar

You should give a talk in the economics dept or the business school.


nick s 05.24.07 at 4:03 am

I think this is the DeLong link, which essentially says ’30 second answers, and talk to the camera as if it’s a person’.

I noticed that last year’s YearlyKos had a panel on doing television guest spots, which got jumped upon as fakery. But it’s clear that liberal guests generally don’t have the chops that are obviously taught in places like Morton Blackwell’s Leadership Institute.

Might I suggest, if you have a DV cam with sufficient bandwidth, hooking that up instead? Or putting the webcam in a black shoebox that looks like a camera?


Maria 05.24.07 at 1:28 pm

Nice haircut.


Maria 05.24.07 at 1:35 pm

Actually, I think part of the general awkwardness of the blogging heads formula is that it’s a new-ish form which hasn’t yet developed its own ‘grammar of the edit’.

If you were doing a piece to camera or a tv interview in a remote studio, you’d be looking right into the camera for the whole piece. But blogging heads is much longer than one of those so it’s awkward to do that for a very long time. Also, with the split screen mode that viewers watch a talking heads in, they perceive you looking at them, i.e. the camera as a proxy for you looking at the other talking head. You, otoh, are sitting in your office feeling silly for looking at a tiny camera for an hour.

I expect that as we all get more used to watching these things, it’ll be easier to participate in one whilst perceiving your own interaction as the viewer might. And norms of how you behave on something that’s like tv, but is not tv will probably evolve as well.

Though the compulsive sidebar reading doesn’t help, either – symptomatic of our age though it is.


Maria 05.24.07 at 1:38 pm

On a very long video conference this morning, I was reminded of Philip K. Dick’s description of stark nekked future-people using video-phones – the idea being that they don’t mind answering the video phone in the nip, because it’s just a representation, but would never answer the door like that. I’m kind of glad that idea didn’t catch on.


Henry 05.25.07 at 2:25 am

joel, thanks for the tips, especially the fassbinder one … nick, thanks too.

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