June 9, 2011 – As part of my public relations business, I deliver media training for clients. In other words, I prepare them to perform with clarity and confidence in interview situations.
One of the many subjects I touch upon is the “double ender” TV interview. You see it pretty much every day on the local and national news. The interview is conducted remotely, with the host in the studio (usually) and the subject in a different location, be it across the newsroom or the other side of the planet.
In the old days, the interview was pre-recorded, then the tape sent off to the TV station to be edited together and aligned with the host’s questions. For this reason, they weren’t as common. But satellite communications have taken over, and now the interviews can take place from any remote location that can pull down a satellite signal.
If you’ve watched CBC’s “The National”, you’ve seen more than your share of double-enders, most notably the political panel, with host Peter Mansbridge and guests Andrew Coyne, Chantal Hébert and Allan Gregg. You will also see live double-enders with reporters the world over, often from areas of war, natural disaster and political unrest.
The subjects wear an earphone, to hear the interviewer’s questions, and they must look straight into the camera to deliver their answers. This creates the illusion that they are “talking to” the host, and, more importantly, the viewer. This is a point that I drill home during media training: when doing double-enders, always look right into the camera. It may feel uncomfortable – awkward, even – but it’s essential to create that illusion. (In all other interviews, the subject should look at the interviewer, not at the camera.)
Which brings me to the point of this post. If you watch “NTV News: First Edition”, every weekday at 5:30, you will see, over and over again, how not to do a double-ender.
In almost every show, host Glen Carter has a guest in the studio, to talk about the issues of the day. They’re in the same building, possibly on the other side of the studio, but they are not face-to-face. It is, essentially, a double-ender. The interviewee is looking into the camera.
Except, too often they aren’t. With the majority of these interviews, the subjects are not engaging with the camera. Their gaze is wandering to the left and right, up and down, all over the place – exactly the way any of us would behave, if we were talking on the phone and couldn’t see the person on the other end. In these cases, it is imperative to look at the camera to create that perception of connectedness.
Just yesterday (June 8), “First Edition” had two guests in the studio – Fisheries Minister Clyde Jackman and economist Wade Locke – one after the other. Both of them looked at the camera only occasionally – the rest of the time, their eyes were roaming about the room. This may seem superficial, but that’s how it is with TV. If you’re going to use the medium, you have to use it to your advantage. If you look at the camera lens only part of the time, you are not looking the viewer “in the eye”. You appear disinterested, distracted, evasive even.
I should emphasize that this is not the fault of the interview subjects, and I am not criticizing them. Even if they have had media training, the onus is on the studio people at NTV to give them a 10-second briefing prior to the interview. Really, all they need to say is, “Look right there, into that lens, for the whole interview. Don’t look away for more than a second!” They owe this much to the people who are kind enough to appear on their program.
Incidentally, CBC "Here & Now" does double-enders in their building as well, with the guest standing in the newsroom, reporters buzzing about in the background. However, I have rarely, if ever, noticed the same problem in this case. It appears they give their guests a proper “look into the lens” briefing.
Either way, I would suggest that both stations scrap this type of double-ender altogether. Really, what is the advantage? They make sense when the subject is in a remote location, but not when both “ends” are in the same building. It feels unnatural, especially for guests who are not accustomed to media interviews.
Bottom line: it is much easier to become engaged in a conversation with a host, rather than a camera lens.
But if you’re going to do it, take a moment in advance to prepare your guests.