Wednesday, December 10, 2008

My Interview with Sports Anchor Mary Jo Perino

What is the secret to getting a big interview? Most of the time, it’s simply asking for it. What you do with it from there is the real key.

Recently, I asked Mary Jo Perino, former CNN sports anchor and presently one of the most popular sports anchors in the Lexington, Kentucky market, for a brief interview. Her obvious love of her profession shows through in her broadcasts on NBC affiliate WLEX-Channel 18, and in the relationship she has with sports figures in Central Kentucky and the nation. What she brings to her profession, and to interviewing, made her a natural choice for someone to illustrate the topic of interviewing skills. She graciously agreed to my request and below are the results.

HQ: For some writers, interviewing isn’t something they like. Is it something you enjoy doing?

MJP: Besides going to the sporting events, doing interviews is the best part of my job. I love talking to people and that’s exactly what I think makes the best interview, when your just having a conversation. I’ve gotten to meet so many people through this job because of interviews so yes, I love it!

HQ: What is the most difficult thing about interviewing for you?

MJP: The most difficult thing is not having enough time. In the television business, you are on a tight deadline. A lot of times you have to get your three questions in and get out. There are so many interesting stories to tell and we just don’t always get the time to find out what those stories are.

HQ: What was your worst moment during an interview or what made your worst interview "the worst interview"?

MJP: Luckily I don’t really have any horror stories (at least not yet). When I got the chance to interview Mike Tyson, it was not long after he had made some pretty ugly comments to another female reporter, so I must admit I was a bit timid with that one and probably should have done a better job asking questions. When I worked for CNN, I had the opportunity to interview some big time athletes, but once again only had three questions to ask. With some of those, one of the questions had to be about something the athlete was pushing. For example, I had three questions with Arizona Cardinals quarterback Matt Leinart and one of them had to be about his new Sprint ringtone. Same thing with John McEnroe, only that was about his partnership with Direct TV. For obvious reasons (wink, wink) it was a little off-putting the first time I did a lockeroom interview. Being in a room full of naked men isn’t conducive to maintaining concentration the first time out!

HQ: Who has been your best interview and what made it so?

MJP: I’ve gotten to interview some wonderful people. Tayshaun Prince has always been very kind and has never rushed me in an interview. Ramel Bradley always told you what was on his mind, I love that. Rich Brooks is also very warm and easy-going. I can’t recall specific interviews that were the best, but I remember the stories. The former softball coach at UK has a daughter with Spinal Muscular Atrophy and I have been to their home twice for interviews and been inspired both times.

HQ: In your position, do you get to adequately prepare for your interviews?

MJP: In short, the answer is sometimes. Most of the interviews I do now are immediately following a game, so you have to be thinking of questions to ask while the game is going on, and then be quick on your feet afterwards.

HQ: If you could only do one thing in preparation for an interview, what would that be?

MJP: It’s unrealistic, but I’d like to talk to the person’s mother before the interview. Get the real story!

HQ: What makes the Vikings the greatest NFL franchise ever? (She’s a transplanted Minnesotan in Big Blue Country)

MJP: That’s a great question! I wish it were true! While I love the Vikings with all my heart, I can’t call them the greatest franchise because they’ve never won a Super Bowl! We, and yes I say we, had our chances in the 70’s with the Purple People Eaters, but it never happened. Lately, we’ve had the Love Boat scandal and a decade of mediocrity. BUT… someday, I hope I can answer that questions with SEVERAL reasons why the Vikings are the greatest franchise!

So, regardless of whether you’re a broadcast journalist or a writer, time is always of the essence. Mary Jo enjoys the gift of being able to have a conversation with her interviewees while extracting the information she wants and needs. The skill of engaging an interviewee in conversation can be a great tool for putting them at ease and having a candid interview. It’s also a skill that, for most, takes a lot of practice.

Note: I hope McEnroe, Lienert and others who insist at least one question is about the product they're pushing are required to do so by their sponsors. Otherwise, I've lost some love for 'em.

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