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"Hey coach, talk about (fill in the blank)." Is this cardinal sin of interviews?

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Bill_Bradley, May 17, 2011.

  1. Bill_Bradley

    Bill_Bradley Member

    Hi everyone,

    I wrote about this today at 27x7.com and it got linked at Romenesko's media news page on Poynter.org. Basically, I'm frustrated with the push-button mentality of many of our peers who tend to tell coaches to "Talk about (this or that)" in post-game pressers rather than asking a true question.


    I didn't expect it to hit nerve with news reporters over there, but it got lots of responses. This is a group of my peers. What do you think?

    Bill Bradley
  2. Simon

    Simon Active Member

    I think its more of a reflection of the current media climate. PR flacks craft every quote, every story the teams want to tell and limit access to everything.

    And honestly, sometimes you don't know enough about the situation to ask a specific quote. For instance, I cover 75 high schools. I don't know everything about track star A's season. "Coach, can you talk about her season?" and then follow up with a good follow up question based off what he says.
  3. EagleMorph

    EagleMorph Member

    Very true, and it's harmless in prep and even small college situations. But in the pros, the research should be in front of you to avoid generic questions.

    Then again, there are limited situations where asking a question at a press conference is okay:
    1. It's your only chance (and I mean only) to talk to the principal involved. That doesn't include NCAA Tournaments, but it does include most pro head coaches (with exceptions).
    2. It's a one-off event or announcement (coach hiring, etc.). And even then, good PR people and SIDs arrange some special one-on-ones.
    3. Actually, that's about all I can think of.

    I guarantee you that most of those asking the "talk about questions" are radio or TV people looking for a sound bite. Meanwhile, the good reporters are letting the PR flacks handle the transcribing while the reporters are digging in the locker room for some interesting nuggets of news and views they can actually use.
  4. Haneluca

    Haneluca New Member

    When dealing with prep coaches, and especially the athletes, this is sometimes the only way to get them to say anything. Otherwise, they'll either say "Yeah" or they'll just rephrase the question to make it sound like an answer. Although I guess that's completely different because with preps you're usually the only one talking with the coach. I agree with the above statements that it definitely doesn't sound good in a presser.
  5. ShiptoShore

    ShiptoShore Member

    Hard to say.

    An example of that sort of "question" being helpful is when you're doing a feature/profile on a player. If you're in a situation where you don't know a lot about the subject, the open-endedness of "Coach, could you talk about Joe X?" can get you a quote to start, then you can follow up with specifics.

    As I write this, however, I'm thinking that you could still start with more specific things, like, "What are his work habits like? How is he in the locker room?" etc. That'd probably earn you a little more of the coach's respect, since you're showing a little effort.

    I agree that maybe it's lazy, but "talk about" seems to ensure a relatively long answer. A lot of times the answers are generic, but the common rambling response might cover a few potential questions under one big blanket question. I think that's why it's used a lot in press conferences. Maybe a time thing. Maybe just laziness.

    EDIT: Didn't see the replies when I wrote this. Sort of already repeating what's been said. Some good points, ladies and gents.
  6. dixiehack

    dixiehack Well-Known Member

    I'm going to have "Trampled Underfoot" stuck in my head until dawn. Thanks.
  7. HejiraHenry

    HejiraHenry Well-Known Member

    "Hey, Bill, talk about how this has brought quite a bit of attention to your website."


    You know, most of the art in what we do has to do with what follows the "talk about" signifier.

    It's trite, sure, but a lot of what we do is trite when you examine it closely. I've worked with a lot of good reporters at the non-pro level who use that as one – just one – of their interview pitches. This column talks about the issue from the perspective of the NBA and NHL playoffs and a particular interview setting. Fair enough.

    That distinction is missing from Romenesko's framing of the piece, which is unfortunate.
  8. dirtybird

    dirtybird Well-Known Member

    I think a big key to the rise of this could easily be earlier deadlines and more reliance on computers. If I'm running at deadline, chances are I'm writing big chucks of, or perhaps all of the story (save for quotes) before asking a single question. At that point I just have holes for quotes on rebounding, a big run or a key turning point. The most direct way to go about getting that quote is just throwing out the topic and having them talk. It sort of goes back to the point that we often feel a responsibility to use quotes, even when we can explain what we saw more completely without them.

    I'd say it's still better than the super long, explained intro to a question, or the statement asked in a questioning tone. "Talk about" is either a request or a command depending on wording.
  9. Shaggy

    Shaggy Guest

    I am proud to say that in 10 years in journalism, I haven't asked that lazy "question" one time.

    There's a well-known Midwest writer who, in several years being around him in postgame pressers and teleconferences, I have not heard phrase a question any other way than "talk about..." or "I was wondering if you could talk about..." and I cringe every time. I'm guessing some of you might know who I'm referring to.
  10. spud

    spud Member

    It's only lazy if it's perceived as lazy.
  11. Smasher_Sloan

    Smasher_Sloan Active Member

    I've heard the dumbest questions get great responses. I've heard great questions get a "That's a great question" response and nothing useable beyond that.

    If "Hey coach, talk about...." elicits something useful, I'm all for it.
  12. gregcrews

    gregcrews Member

    I think you have to know who you are talking to. I have dealt with some coaches (even big time D-I college basketball coaches) who like to answer questions in as few words as possible. For coaches or athletes like that, sometimes the only way to get a full sentence out of them is to say, "talk about how Joe Blow played tonight," or "talk about what this win means for your postseason hopes."

    Obviously, the most informative quotes come from questions. However, when you are just trying to let the reader see the reaction a player or coach had to something, I think it's okay to say "talk about" and let them comment and share their opinion, so it can be relayed to the reader.
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