One of the most disorienting interview formats for an interviewee is a “down-the-line” encounter or a “live two-way” as it’s sometimes called.
This is where the interviewee looks straight into the camera, not at their interviewer; the reason being, their interviewer is not with them.
Typically, the interviewee might be invited into the central London studio at Millbank of Sky or the BBC and then linked up with the station HQ at Osterley or Broadcasting House.
Or, the news channel might send a cameraman and a satellite truck to the interviewee, wherever they might be. This happens when the interviewee cannot get into a studio, because they don’t have time or are too far away, or because the interview will look better on location rather than coming from a soulless studio. The programme might cross to an MP attending a party conference, to a coast guard on the sea front as waves batter the coastline or to an aid worker in a Syrian refugee camp in Turkey.
Whichever it is, the interviewee’s only contact with their interviewer is via an earpiece. Often, the quality of the sound feed can be patchy. You might have traffic noise to contend with, not to mention those passing motorists who insist on hooting their horn every time they see anybody standing in front of a TV camera. There can also be the annoying intrusion of “satellite delay”. It can be quite a difficult interview to handle.
The most important requirement is that the interviewee should look straight into the camera. Eyes that divert here, there and everywhere are the eyes of an interviewee who is so unsettled at being questioned, they dare not look straight into the camera lens (and, via the camera, directly at the viewer) because they are terrified of revealing in their eyes the internal angst inside them.
Either that, or the interviewee is lying and knows it. Diverting their eyes from the camera flags up to the viewer that the interviewee is terrified of looking them in the eye in case their deceit is spotted.
Furthermore, an interviewee who is forever glancing off-camera can look as though they are so uncertain of what they are saying, they are looking at their press officer – either for moral support (regular thumbs-up as reassurance that they are doing ok) or because the comms person is mouthing to the interviewee the next message they should be delivering.
This would have been the impression formed by many Sky News viewers when the station conducted a down-the-line interview with acting Director-General of the BBC Tim Davie when he took over from George Entwistle who resigned over the BBC’s coverage of a child abuse scandal.
Watch this clip and ask yourself whether you’ve ever seen anyone look quite so uncomfortable in a TV interview.
In fact, one of the comments on the same page as the above link is from a Daily Telegraph reader who appears to have spotted the reflection of Davie’s press officer in the window behind him!
One final thought: never walk out on an interview.
All in all, the Davie interview is a case study in how not to do it.