So there I was, walking down the street, minding my own business without a care in the world when all of a sudden this car pulls up next to me and out jumps a couple of cameramen along with some deranged looking creature thrusting a microphone in my face . Naturally I was at first baffled about the circumstance and my first inclination was to take to my heels and run as fast as I could but since these strangers had a least a couple of decades on me I knew my chances for escape would have been futile.
My second impulse was to drop these motherfuckers dead in their tracks and take my chances with the law but then I realized I was outnumbered three to one. Thankfully, calmer heads prevailed and I figured I would stand my ground and ignore whatever was being thrown at me.
The next thing I knew I was being peppered with a series of rapid fire questions that went something along the lines of:
”Mr. Borgo, are the rumors about you true?”
”Mr. Borgo, why did you do it?”
"Mr. Borgo, are you denying the allegations made against you?”
The questions came so fast and furious that all I could mutter was a feeble “No comment” and increase my pace to try and get away from these intruders. At last, they finally relented when I approached my home and told them they were trespassing on private property and I threatened to call the police.
I thought that would be the end of it but after I composed myself and flipped on the local news at 6:00 it seems I had been reduced to nothing more than a soundbite. I knew right away that there would be some ‘splaining to do in the days to come.
Ok, that was just a little story in order to set the mood for what an “ambush interview” really is and why they are done.
I guess the credit for the ambush style of interview belongs to Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes fame. Back in the day they gained a degree of notoriety with their hidden cameras and microphones bringing images and sounds into your living room that might never have been seen or heard if their quarry knew they were on camera.
Today, in this 24 hour news cycle and with various other news outlets competing against each other for the “late breaking” story the ambush interview has risen to a new level. It seems almost commonplace for reporters from both liberal and conservative circles to take it upon themselves to stalk their quarry and catch them while they’re off guard in the hopes of getting something incriminating they can dash out to the public and scoop their competitors.
I guess what passes for journalism these days has been replaced with a more prurient interest from the general public for a juicy story.
On the flip side, I guess some ambush interviews can be good. The subject of the interview itself usually isn’t able to hide behind their lawyers and if they are so inclined might actually answer a question or two.
So, for any of you aspiring reporters who wish to conduct an ambush interview here are a few tips of the trade
Know thy quarry. That’s right, study their comings and goings from home to office. Know where they buy their daily newspaper or stop for their morning coffee. It’s usually better to try and make contact in a public place than it is to try and knock and their door to illicit a response.
Be prepared. Have a list of questions that you’d like to ask memorized in advance. You’ll be much more effective if you sound like you know what you’re looking for than to come across as confused.
Be persistent and probing. Don’t take “No comment” as the final answer. If one approach doesn’t work try variations on the theme.
Don’t go it alone. Some people might feel threatened when approached unexpectedly and respond violently. Remember, there's strength in numbers.
That’ s about all I have when it comes to conducting an ambush interview.
Hopefully you’ll never have to be on the receiving end of a bunch of questions for which you're not prepared.