Tag Archives: interviewing

Fox Interview Will Flourish in the Classroom

Lauren Green’s interview with Reza Aslan, author of Zealot: the Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth will live forever in college courses in both a positive and negative way.
The negative, of course, is how to begin an agenda-laden interview and then awkwardly and totally lose control.
I’ve been a PR director in higher education for 35 years. I’ve known professors of every type. Some of my best friends are scholars. Most of them have Ph.Ds. Some are cool and some are social misfits.
I’ve also dealt with journalists of all ages, types and backgrounds. And I started my career as a journalist.
So let’s begin with the fact that Green’s question about why a Muslim would want to write a book about Jesus is a fair one. “Why” is always a first question. On a recent Fresh Air episode Terry Gross asked the same question but she allowed Aslan to answer. He explained that he grew up a Muslim, turned to Christianity, then returned to the Muslim faith. Gross’ question and Aslan’s answer set the tone for a substantive interview that enabled Aslan to talk about Roman history, politics, insurrection and the man responsible for creating the revolution.
Green didn’t allow that and it became clear that there was an agenda. She continued to ask how he, a Muslim, could presume to write about Jesus.
Aslan explained that he has a Ph.D in religious studies and has studied and taught it for 20 years. It was a clear, cool explanation that could have been addressed to a confused high school student. It was clear that with each stumbling question, Green was becoming frustrated and angry, not a good thing when you’re a journalist.
When Green pointed out that many scholars disagreed with Aslan’s premise about Jesus, Aslan almost gleefully answered that this was what scholarly debate is all about. He is, of course, correct. I’ve seen scholars debate. Yes, they can get heated, sometimes about seemingly small things, but debate is at the core of all scholarship and always has been.
Green’s most embarrassing moment as a journalist should have been when she accused Aslan of hiding the fact that he is a Muslim. Aslan calmly zeroed in with a clear, concise attack (and yes, I believe he knew exactly what he was doing), when he pointed out that he states his religion on page two of Zealot and that he has made it clear in every interview he’s ever done, challenging her to find one in which he has not stated it.
That effectively ended the interview, making it painfully clear that this professional journalist had not even opened the book and that her staff/producers had done no preparatory research.

The Green/Aslan interview will be taught in college courses for years to come. Journalism professors will use Green as an example of what not to do in an interview, especially when you lose control of it. PR professors will point to Aslan as a prime example of the importance of staying composed and professional while under fire and the importance of reiterating key points (“I have a PhD. . . . I am a scholar . . . I write about all religions”).
In the end, the goal of attacking a scholar on the basis of his faith and staying with an agenda at the expense of a true conversation did five things on an international scale:
-it damaged the interviewer’s credibility;
-it made a scholar a celebrity;
-it instantly drove Zealot to number one on the bestseller lists;
-it created a renewed discussion about religion and scholarship;
-it made a lasting contribution to the teaching of journalism and public relations.


My No Budget TV Talk Show

Okay, in this high rolling social media world where we fritter with Twitter, apply more makeup on Facebook and punch the keyboard to create new blog posts, I’m adding a new, narrow, more focused local direction.

I decided to start a TV talk show to air on our local cable system.  The system covers six towns in three counties.

There are several reasons for my 20th century move.  The cable manager, Tom Freeman, and I  have been talking about some kind of community service program for years.  Our campus TV club does a show but it still doesn’t fill the community service aspect fully.

In a new community relations committee I’m on, someone pointed out that many local residents have never been on the Mansfield University campus.

In a meeting with admissions directors recently, our system chancellor told directors that we’re overlooking our own backyards as far as promotion and recruiting.

We have many  professors, staff and community leaders with a lot of good, interesting things to say about what they’re doing.

So I went to the president and told her,  “I want to start a TV show.”  A very pro-community leader, she endorsed it on the spot.    I talked with Mark, our TV services person who also jumped on board.  I called people I knew would be interesting just to make sure I had enough subjects to get the show off the ground.

I named the show “Conversations.”

It is TV 101.  No special effects.  Some B-roll.  Some editing.  For anyone who’s been involved in productions, you know that creating a video or show is time-consuming.  I figured I would spend a few hours researching each guest or his or her subject.  The producer estimated that he would spend several hours in post-production.

We would do the interviews in the TV studio where we didn’t have to worry about lighting and sound.  (This soon changed, of course). I opted for just plain curtains for a background so the viewer stays focused on the conversation.  We’d use three cameras–one on the guest, one on me and one for me to talk directly to the viewer (intros, outros, commercial breaks).

With that agreement, the president’s approval and no proposal, master plan, needs assessment and all the other stuff that stifles creativity and creates obstacles to actual work, we jumped in.

The results?

I’ll talk about that next time.