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Week Three


This prompt is once more a follow-up to a workshop.  What most surprised you in our introduction to interviewing with Greg Sharrow?  Which of the basic interviewing principles that Diane distributed in advance of that workshop felt especially relevant to our experience at the Folklife Center?


Please respond online before class on Thursday, the 25th.

12 Responses to “9/25 Reading Reflections”

  1. Luke Eastman says:

    What most surprised me in Greg Sharrow’s spiel was his emphasis of the interviewer being absolutely transparent from the get-go. That means any preconceived notions about your interviewee or your personal biases may have to come out (a hard and possibly inflammatory act). For example, if I were to interview someone who lives in a mobile home park, I need to be honest about my lack of experience with people in that situation. This transparency will forbid us or at least hinder us from coercing an answer out of the interviewee that supports our stereotypes of them.

    I feel like the principle “frame any potentially challenging questions in a non-biased and non-confrontational way” is a very important principle that Diane mentioned. It is, however, easier said than done. When asking about a divorce, or a new family moving into down, things can get a little slippery. Word choice and tone of voice is key, and the personal skills of the interviewer will come in to play here quite a lot. I would think that practice will help a lot as well.

  2. Nathan Zucker says:

    The idea of interviewing autobiographically, which was suggested by Diane and then repeated by Greg Sharrow, surprised me somewhat. As a sportswriter for a local newspaper in my hometown, I have become accustomed to a more journalistic style of interview. That is, I prepare a list of questions and ask them, generally in a certain order. Of course, any good interviewer knows to probe deeper when something interesting arises, but I would never do anything as profound as a biographical sketch. This technique is unique to the sort of ethnography/anthropology we’re studying in class, and I find it very interesting.

    Also, I was a bit shocked by Sharrow’s willingness to be completely open about controversial issues before beginning the interview. His approach to covering the residents of the mobile home parks was entirely different from what had been previously suggested in class; his tactic was much more aggressive but also showed much compassion and integrity. I had to applaud his courage and sympathy, though I might feel uncomfortable in such a situation.

  3. Ian Sanders-Fleming says:

    When ‘interviewing’ Bill and Celine (sp?) with Greg, I was continuously reminded of my summer job as a salesman at a small sport shop in Block Island, RI. When chatting up folks coming through the store, I found that my composure, confidence, and body language were essential in order to make a total stranger feel at ease with me and willing to talk. In general when meeting new people, trying to get a job, make a good impression, I try and ‘act’ out a confidence and self-comfort that I might not feel. I was initially uncomfortable with Diane’s emphasis on proximity and eye contact, but as we all interacted with the Coons (sp?), such gestures seem obvious and essential. While Greg certainly had his own style of body language that I’m sure many of us would find out of character to use, his constant interest, use of eye contact, and posture (sitting upright or at least not slouching) were a great example of how I might want to act when first meeting a stranger to assure them I’m interested, and not just there for the story. That said, it may be possible to go overboard with acting, politeness, and mannerisms- I could definitely see someone being put off by what may seem to be overly-fake enthusiasm. I’m looking forward to the social tap-dance with all sorts of types in Starksboro, and I hope I interview someone for which this initial-impression act doesn’t cut it.

  4. Robert McKay says:

    It was good to hear Greg’s assessment of the practice interview as ideal – it gave me some sense of what to expect that is probably based on a lot of experience on Greg’s part. The conversation felt easy, like small talk but more persistent in drawing out the quotidian topics. It was less a matter of raising “deep” questions than of sustaining interest in anecdotes that you might just let lie in a conversation. “I like old cars.” “Oh. Cool.” But instead, “When did you start colloecting cars? Did you and your wife bond over this interest?”, etc. The Coons’ willingness to keep talking was what made them good interviewees – it wasn’t that they immediately started spouting poetry and philosophy about all the things we were wondering about Starksboro. But there was the sense that the conversation could have gone a lot deeper – we were just on the edge of it. That sense of potential is a lot of what made it a good start. Also, the Coons were a really easy couple to interview because they brought as much intention and focus to the process as Greg did.

  5. Hillary Gerardi says:

    As I commented at the Folklife Center, I think that the interview went particularly well, however, I fear that our interview with the Coons could potentially instill false confidence, given how easily it flowed. I’m sure that we all know a few people, for example, who are not all that forthcoming with information about themselves, and have to be probed extensively to get much of any information.
    With any luck, interviewee’s will be somewhat self-selecting in their willingness to talk, however I share the previously expressed concern about finding the right people to interview. I think we are lucky to have the contacts that we do already have; folks who can suggest good subjects for interviews.
    Initially, I was a little skeptical of the suggestion by both Diane and Greg to start out an interview autobiographically. I anticipated that we might find it difficult to segue from autobiography into the subject matter that we were really trying to get at. However, it seemed that in Greg’s interview with the Coons, interviewees are able to open up when asked about their backgrounds, preparing both them and the interviewer for the rest of the conversation.

    Finally, and on a completely unrelated note, I am a little nervous about finding the best method for recording interviews. Greg emphasized the importance of having good quality recording, however I am anxious about the quality of the recording devices available to us as well as their intrusiveness. During the interview at the folk life center, I imagined myself in the place of the Coons and imagined that I might have a tough time talking openly to a person wearing headphones. Likewise, I might have difficulty speaking candidly to a microphone held to my mouth….

  6. Jeremy Cline says:

    Like others have stated before, the Coons were open and generous in sharing in formation, but I also think there is something to be said about interviewing with another person, as we also saw in the StoryCorps work. Having two people so that one could play off the stories of the other, reminding them or things and above all, helping them to feel comfortable, brought a lot to the interview. I was surprised at how natural the whole situation seemed even though there were 20 of us interviewing the two Coons, and Greg had headphones on. Looking at the expression on Bill’s face, I think there was something special about us being there to listen to his passion for automobiles; I think the important thing to remember from this is to keep full awareness and listen to the person’s passion, rather than make it an interrogation aimed at withdrawing information.

    I am a little bit curious about this idea of an ending point though; it seems like we could have talked to the Coons for a very long time. There are so many corners and stories in a persons life, once you start you want to explore them all. A whole life can be a very long time. How do we reach any conclusion?

  7. Lindsay Patterson says:

    I really enjoyed our time at the Folklife Center. I found it extremely helpful to watch Greg Sharrow in action, interviewing the Coons. It is clear that he has a ton of interviewing experience, but it was also encouraging to see how much of interviewing is about being a genuine good listener–something we all can do with effort. I felt like he was really able to connect with both Celine and Bill. I was aware of his body language and how he leaned into his questions, in a way emphasizing his interest. While he was not talking much, his presence was very strong. I think this was a real positive aspect of his interview because his body language almost took the place of his voice so that Celine and Bill felt like it was more of a conversation than an interview, even though he was not sharing his story. When we go to Starksboro, it will be important to remember subtleties, such as body language, because the little things can have a major impact on the success of the interview.

  8. Max Kanter says:

    It seemed to me that Diane stressed the professionalism necessary to conduct an interview. I agree, we must be professional when interviewing, but after seeing Greg interviewing the Coons, I think having a casual air is very important. We are collecting oral histories. We want to hear the anecdotes and the emotional attachment to memory. While I agree with Hillary, Greg did look silly wearing headphones; on the whole his interview was pretty impressive. He listened to every detail in the Coons story, and he asked succinct questions that lead to elaborate story telling. His enthusiasm encouraged the Coons. He made them feel like the stories they told were interesting. Enthusiasm and attentiveness is very important, for example Grey often said, “How interesting!” or “What a coincidence,” he was just reassuring the Coons that he was listening. On a side note, I think that certain interviews don’t need to happen sitting in a room. I think that if the story is about a place such as The Mill Inn, or a section of the forest, walking while interviewing should be considered. This is where a video camera could be another tool. I also think we should take pictures of every person we interview, possible to include it in our final project, and also to recognize the faces behind the stories.

  9. Alena Giesche says:

    I really enjoyed our workshop with Greg Sharrow. I think his attitude towards interviews was really gracious and oriented towards finding out anything about someone, rather than something specific he was looking for. He never rushed his questions and he never acted impatient. He gave off many signals- verbal as well as body language- that assured the Coons that they were telling us something we cared about and wanted to hear more about. While they did seem too perfect to be true, I do have faith that many people we will interview will be just as open and willing to talk. I think that if someone agrees to give you an interview, they will feel compelled to help you. Especially, as John Elder says, because we are “cute”, and everyone sympathizes with hard-working college students…

  10. Chester Harvey says:

    I was very interested in Greg’s storytelling strategy: interview a variety of people and then looking for common threads of subjects or themes connecting them together. His point that it is often difficult to predict what these themes will be, or who will bring them to the table, was initially surprising to me. Now, based on our interview with Bill and Celine, I now know exactly what he means.
    Coming into our interview, all we knew about the Coons was that they were ‘old time’ residents of Starksboro. We had little idea whether ‘old time’ meant they were born in town, or had simply been there longer than most others. We didn’t know their occupations, their hobbies, how they met, or any other of the themes that ended up dominating our conversation. For all we know, themes of vintage cars, bake sales, small business ownership, and town political involvement will be central to the stories we tell about Starksboro. Yet, we may never have ‘prescreened’ Bill and Celine to play a role in telling these stories.
    This relates to the advice offered by Diane that we should identify out interviewees based on what we want to know. Although we needed to know a certain amount of Bill and Celine, such as their residency in Starksboro, to make our interview worthwhile, it was the topics we didn’t already know they would talk about that made the interview most interesting and productive. It seems important that we strike a balance between targeting specific interviewees, as a journalist would likely do, and interviewing a broad swath of the population, only to make thematic linkages after the fact. I think we may surprised by the commonalities we discover between Starksboro residents that we might not initially link together.

  11. Deborah Wakefield says:

    I was quite surprised with how easy it was after you got started. I know it won’t always be that easy, but I now feel so much better. I had never interviewed someone (I know Greg was doing most of the work), and I just needed to jump in and do it. It is much less scary after you just try it out. Watching Greg was very helpful. He really loves his work, and it is very obvious. Today before I interviewed Jeremy, a friend shared with me the key to interviewing successfully which is to fall in love with your interviewer. As in, become enthralled by everything they have to say. I got this message from Greg, just in less flowery terms. If you just make yourself find everything they say interesting, you won’t be bored and they won’t be either.

  12. Tucker Levy says:

    Sorry I am a bit late with this response, but I figured it was better to share my thoughts late than not write anything at all. Greg’s enthusiasm and attentiveness, which was mentioned by a number of people is really what struck me most about the meeting. This pep allowed the interview to develop in a natural and useful manner. That said I have a few issues with Deb saying, “If you just make yourself find everything they say interesting, you won’t be bored and they won’t be either.” Firstly, I doubt that we will find too many of these interviews to be boring, and if we do they will probably have a shorter natural course. If we force ourselves to look interested, I think that our phoniness will be quite transparent and possibly taken as condescension. In order for this process to be bountiful for Starksboro and us, we must consistently be real and honest with our interviewees. I strongly agree that we should never act bored; our posture and body language are crucial to the success of this project.
    I found Greg’s take on asking “the hard questions” to be very helpful. Remaining transparent with our interviewees about our intents will allow us to ask that hard questions that will foster emotional and valuable responses. Greg said that we could and should ask these questions, but I believe it is important to note that he didn’t ask any of them to early on in the course of the interview. He focused on establishing a real, solid relationship with Bill and Celine before he brought these difficult topics up.

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