Lots of journalism students love the idea of telling stories, but reporting frightens them. They can’t imagine walking up to someone they don’t know and asking questions. They need plenty of encouragement and lots of assignments to get more comfortable with interviewing strangers.
If students are shy and insecure, they may be inspired by a self-described shy person who is now one of the best known interviewers on the radio, Terry Gross.
Gross is the host of Fresh Air, produced by WHYY-FM in Philadelphia and distributed nationally by NPR. On her program, she talks to people from all walks of life about anything and everything. Gross describes herself as a journalist, but not as a reporter.
I have a very imperfect memory, and the idea of being a reporter was always really terrifying to me because you have to be able to say something with authority and know that is the truth as you observed it or as you heard it. I would probably always be second guessing and going like, “Well, I think you said this, pretty sure he said that.” I’d always be thinking, “Yeah, but maybe that’s not what he said, or maybe that’s not what I saw.”
Talking to Jesse Thorn on the podcast, “The Turnaround,” Gross said interviewing takes different skills, including curiosity and empathy. Gross says she once thought about being a writer, but she couldn’t seem to come up with any stories to tell. In interviews, she says, she finds other people’s stories.
It’s all about prompting people to share their expertise, or tell their stories, or just like reflect on their lives, or their faith, or their experiences. That seemed very comfortable and very natural to me.
Gross certainly is good at what she does. Her program has been on the air for 40 years and won a Peabody Award in 1994 for its “probing questions, revelatory interviews and unusual insights.” All that, with a person at the helm who calls herself “insecure and self-conscious.”