There was a glaring case on BBC radio this morning of how an interview can be boosted by the use of examples or case studies and diminished if they are not included.
The “Today” programme on BBC Radio Four conducted an interview about a meeting that’s taking place today in Lucerne in Switzerland involving European research ministers. They’re convening to discuss which space projects to finance.
The programme interviewed Catherine Mealing-Jones from the UK Space Agency. She expressed the hope that the British Mars exploration programme would be the one that received support as a result of the ministers’ meeting.
She did a pretty good job during the interview in pushing the British case. Ms. Mealing-Jones came across with enthusiasm and authority.
The interview could have been enhanced that little bit more, however, had she included one or two examples to illustrate the merits of investing in this particular space programme.
The “Today” presenter Sarah Montague put to Ms. Mealing-Jones that one or two space projects had not been successful, the implication being that many people would question the wisdom of financing similar programmes in the future. Here was the chance for the interviewee to really drive home the importance of such missions.
Instead, Ms. Mealing-Jones used one or two rather vague generalisations, for example “commercialisation spin-out”, the “commercial applications of space” and “downstream applications”.
Sarah Montague clearly wanted to get beyond these phrases and pin down more exactly what her interviewee meant when she said that the Mars programme was all about “how we use space on earth”.
In reply, her interviewee spoke of the Mars programme helping “many medical investigations”, “investigations into ageing” and “autonomous cars”.
She left it at that. Here was the missed opportunity.
This was the point at which Ms Mealing-Jones should have given one or two specific examples. People listening at home would want to know which particular medical investigation could be assisted by a Mars programme. Will my hip replacement be easier because of such space research? Will research on Mars help my mother with her dementia? Which bit of my car will become more “autonomous” as a result of funding this particular programme?
The value of examples is that they bring alive the points the interviewee is trying to make. Moreover, it helps drive home the message that the interviewee is trying to get across – in this case, the importance of supporting a British space programme as against any other.
It could be argued that Ms. Mealing-Jones was running out of time at the end of the interview and therefore didn’t have enough leeway to include one or two examples. This highlights another point – that when you do have one or two interesting examples that enlighten viewers vividly about the topic of the interview, go with these examples straightaway – at the start of the interview.
As I said earlier, Ms. Mealing-Jones came across with conviction during this interview and was lively. It was just a pity, therefore, that her interview lacked that extra bit of colour. We just needed those one or two examples to bring alive how the exploration of Mars can benefit us here on Earth.