The Advantages of Remote Interviewing
This NYT Magazine profile of author Laura Hillenbrand explores her writing process and considers the ways it has been impacted by her illness. One section of this excellent article had resonance for me around conducting remote interviews, something I’m frequently asked about.
One hallmark of literary nonfiction is its emphasis on personal observation. But Hillenbrand found that telephone interviews do offer certain advantages. No one appreciates this perspective more than the radio host Terry Gross, who performs nearly every interview on her program, “Fresh Air,” by remote. Gross told me that she began this habit, as Hillenbrand did, by necessity: The cost of bringing a guest to her studio in Philadelphia was simply too high. Over time, she said, she has come to believe that there is intimacy in distance. “I find it to be oddly distracting when the person is sitting across from me,” she said with a laugh. “It’s much easier to ask somebody a challenging question, or a difficult question, if you’re not looking the person in the eye.” Gross also said the remote interview makes it easier to steer the conversation. “I can look at my notes without fear that the interviewee will assume that I’m not paying attention to what they’re saying,” she said. Finally, the distance eliminates nonverbal cues, which can interfere with good quotes. “A hand gesture might be helpful to communicate something to me. It communicates nothing to my listeners.” Hillenbrand, who recorded hundreds of hours of interviews with Zamperini, experienced a similar effect. “I thought it was actually an advantage to be unable to go to Louie,” she said. Because neither of them had to dress for the interviews and they were in their own homes, their long phone calls enjoyed a warmth and comfort that might otherwise be missing. She could pose the deeply personal questions that even her father had trouble answering.