Friday, July 3, 2009

How I Interview

Because my interviews with people associated with the early days of the hobby have become one of the most popular features of this blog, I thought I should clarify a few things about how I go about doing them.

Once an interviewee agrees to receive my questions, my first batch of them almost always consists of "softball questions," that is, fairly generic ones about how he or she entered the hobby, earliest and/or most famous publications, current activities, and whether he or she still plays RPGs. I never begin by asking anything too "controversial," because I prefer to wait until I receive the responses to my initial questions. Those responses provide me with a good gauge on how much -- or how little -- an interviewee wishes to share with me. In some cases, they provide ample opportunity for me to ask "hard" questions and in others it's clear that they're not interested in airing dirty laundry about the past. In the latter case, it's my practice to respect whatever boundaries they establish, even if that means I don't get to probe deeply.

I am not a professional journalist, as several people are quick to point out from time to time. My interviews are conducted to give some of the founders of our collective hobby a chance to say a few things about their own involvement in and contributions to it. I do this both out of simple curiosity and a desire to help establish a few more facts about those bygone days. I do not do it to advance an agenda or to play "gotcha." Consequently, some of my interviews are shorter and less "juicy" than others. That's a function of my innate politeness -- I don't delve into matters that it's clear my interviewees seem to have no interest in discussing, no matter how much I myself might wish to know them. On the other hand, I don't hesitate to pursue matters that my interviewees clearly want to discuss, particularly if it gives me further insight into the history of the hobby.

The upshot of all of this is that my interviews are necessarily of uneven length and content, according to my own estimation of each interviewee's level of comfort and openness, as well as my own comfort at asking them lots of tedious questions about events two or more decades in the past. Any perceived inadequacies in the interviews are thus entirely my fault, not my interviewees', who have all been most gracious to take the time to submit to my interrogations. While there are some interviews of which I am more proud than others, I am genuinely pleased with all of them, even those where I felt I could not ask deeply probing questions. I leave that task to others, but experience has taught me that it's often more productive to avoid sensitive topics, even if that yields a less "sensational" interview.

At this stage in my examination of the hobby's history, finding out even the most basic details are of use to me and, I hope, to my readers, many of whom are unaware of them. I consider this a valuable endeavor, even if it'll never win me the Pullitzer Prize.

15 comments:

  1. James, I think you're doing a great job. In fact if you would ever consider compiling these interviews, that is if the interviewees would consent, into a neat little book I'd love to have one. Plus I never trust the "permanency" of a website, even blogger.

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  2. You are doing a great job, James. Please ignore the critics...

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  3. My plan is to compile all the interviews into a single document at some point in the next few months. I'll be sure to announce it here when it's available.

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  4. I appreciate the clarification as to your questioning style. Your interviews are extremely valuable to anyone with an interest in the history of the hobby, and I thank you for doing them. Can't wait for that document!

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  5. I think your interview efforts are a great service to the history of our hobby. Keep up the superb work!

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  6. I am very much looking forward to the compilation. Keep up the good work!

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  7. Very enjoyable stuff indeed. Thanks James! Thanks to all who have agreed to be interviewed!

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  8. I think your interviews are great, and are of a very high standard, better than many professionals.

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  9. Keep up the good work James, the interviews have been an eye-opener for me, really informative.

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  10. These interviews really are great. Fascinating stuff. I love hearing more details about what was going on back than, but it's also really interesting to see what a lot of the old designers are up to today.

    You might want to think about doing a second round with some of them. I wonder if any of them reading others' interviews might be compelled to speak more on some of the subjects.

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  11. In another couple decades or more some historian is gonna find your interviews and cream his/her pants.

    It sounds like overblown hyperbole but seriously you are doing a great service for us today and for future generations.

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  12. I think that’s a great attitude and methodology.

    I think you’ve given us some very authentic pictures of these people and their approach, attitude, etc. towards the hobby. Much better than the caricatures we tend to draw of them. No matter how they respond.

    I think any other methodology would not have worked as well.

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  13. Great interviews! Thanks for doing this and keep 'em coming!

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  14. Dude,
    Great Job!
    Thank you very much!

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