It was the second time I’d heard the question and a killer punch answer was proving elusive. My forehead was dotted with beads of sweat while my legs were shaking so hard I could’ve sworn that everyone in the room could hear the bones rattling. For my young interrogator, who had all but given up the pretence of hiding the larger than life smirk that had exploded across his face, my discomfort was grist to his mill. I had agreed to be interviewed for a student television project and it should have been a walk in the park. Yet here I was being placed on the back foot by someone old enough to be my son:
“It’s not a matter of Yes or No”, I replied, “It’s a bit more complicated than that!”
“You’re wrong”, he countered aggressively “It may be a hypothetical situation we’re discussing here but it’s still the legalities that count! Your mate’s suing a magazine for libel and then tells you the story’s true. Don’t you think you have a duty to report that to your editor?”
“I’m not suggesting you break the law, I’m highlighting a dilemma ”, I retorted, “Supposing it was your Mum and Dad who’d owned up? Would you expose them knowing they could be prosecuted for perjury?”
A glint of mischief lit up his dark eyes, “Do you know in the end I probably would” he said after a deliberate pause, “Because you can’t cherry pick the bits of the law that suit you best, otherwise what’s the point of it?”
I was about to respond with examples of ordinary people who’d broken the law for the good of the majority, but his lecturer ended the session before I could even blurt out a syllable. After I’d congratulated him on an interview technique that almost left me checkmated, we smilingly shook hands. I had narrowly avoided a humiliation of sorts, unlike the countless others who haven’t fared so well! I have never deliberately gone out of my way to trip somebody up on air, but I can now understand the sheer terror a guest must feel when they’re interviewed by a journalist with an axe to grind. The mind goes into overdrive whilst words are spoken with a monitored caution, as there’s always the danger an innocent remark can be turned into something incriminating. Is it any wonder that TV interviews are sometimes compared to being wrung through a contraption invented by the Spanish Inquisition?
But I must be a glutton for punishment as a fortnight after my encounter with the man who would be Jeremy Paxman, I agreed to do another interview, this time on Twitter. I didn’t really think that much about it until the event was less than a handful of days away and I was desperately trying to anticipate the areas where I was likely to be questioned.
“Don’t worry”, one of my journalist friends assured me, “You’ll breeze through it!”
“And you’re tempting fate”, I replied disconsolately, “After what that kid nearly did to me the other day I’m not so sure about anything!”
“Treat it as a one-off”, she laughed, “At least you won’t have a camera pointed in your face!”
Of course she was right but that wasn’t enough to take the edge off my caution. I’ve always been fairly comfortable with newspaper and radio interviews, but Twitter is in a different league altogether. Suppose I wrote something that was unintentionally disrespectful about a person or a place? And how could I stop the cyber flow if I accidentally forwarded a wrong message? But I needn’t have worried as the Twitter community was great, and apart from one slightly awkward question about a former work colleague, nobody asked me anything that was potentially compromising.
So having survived the experience, would I do it again? In a word, Yes! I enjoyed being in the hot seat because I actually felt I had some control over the situation. That’s important as most television interviewees, (with the exception of politicians who are media trained), are normally powerless and that makes them vulnerable to a mauling from a skilled inquisitor. I should know because I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve bypassed the blood on the carpet en route to a studio. Since I don’t fancy the prospect of being another of tomorrow’s victims, then Twitter is definitely the safer of the two options.