A few months ago, a client gave me a hard time because I wrote up an interview in one style, and she presumed I would write it in another. This started me thinking about how the style of written interviews seems to have changed, whether they appear online or in hard copy. I personally resist reading traditional all-prose interviews and almost always opt for the Q&A style – where the interviewer is less dominant, but is equally important.
Examples of the Two Interview Styles
The two interview styles I will discuss are question-and-answer (Q&A) and text with direct and indirect quotes (what I will call “traditional”). Click on the link to see an example of Q&A style, chosen arbitrarily.
Finding an example of the traditionally written interview online was a challenge. I had originally assumed that “celebrity” profiles were still written in an all-prose style, so I naturally looked at the Entertainment Weekly site. To my surprise, all the interviews I found online there were Q&A! Click on the link for an example, again chosen arbitrarily, but interesting and fun from Entertainment Weekly.
I thought of looking for examples in The New York Times and The New Yorker, but I wanted an example that was freely available. I asked myself what was the most traditionalist magazine I could think of – ah ha – Opera News! I was not disappointed. Opera News continues to publish interviews online in the traditional style with long paragraphs of prose sprinkled with direct quotes. Here is one with a singer, chosen at random.
To be fair, Opera News does occasionally publish a Q&A-style interview. Here is an example, an interview with a conductor.
Why I Very Seldom Read Traditional Interviews
To be honest, I seldom read traditional interviews anymore, even if I am interested in the person being interviewed. Why? I find the traditional interview style is too often dominated by the interviewer, and if the interviewer is duller than the interviewee, you can end up with an extremely tedious piece.
I remember one afternoon when I was working with Christa Ludwig (an opera singer) on her book and she had to stop for a few minutes for a quick phone interview. At one point, she put her hand over the receiver and whispered to me, “This person knows nothing.” I can just imagine how awful that interview piece turned out even though Christa was very smart and very funny. The interviewer was obviously a dud.
Is the Q&A Style More Contemporary?
I think several forces are at work in making the Q&A style predominate in written interviews now.
Today interviews are ubiquitous and often done extremely well. The airwaves are full of “talk shows,” and I will mention two of my favorites – Charlie Rose on his public TV based Charlie Rose Show and NY public radio’s Leonard Lopate. Often the people interviewed on the Charlie Rose or Leonard Lopate shows end the conversation with “this was fun” when the subject is lighter or “thanks for having me” when it is more serious since the interviews are usually lively yet cordial. Sometimes the person interviewed even sounds surprised, but I’m not.
Then Q&A suits the contemporary lifestyle, which is often hectic with many types of media vying for attention. If you look at the examples I provided, I think you will agree that the Q&A style works equally well online and in print. In either location, questions in boldface type make the piece very easy to skim, and you can quickly skip to the next question if you get bored. And I admit to being busy and much more easily bored than I used to be.