Interview with an interviewing pro

'Vanity Fair' contributing editor Judy Bachrach gives interviewing tips at Kelly Writers House

The Daily Pennsylvanian
March 27, 2007

Media Credit: Richard Liebowitz
Judy Bachrach, a journalist and contributing editor for 'Vanity Fair', speaks at Kelly Writers House yesterday afternoon about successful interviewing techniques.

What do Lindsay Lohan, Michael Moore, Ronald Reagan and the Dalai Lama have in common? They have all been interviewed at least once by journalist Judy Bachrach.

Bachrach, currently a contributing editor to Vanity Fair, shared some experiences and insights on the other side of the interview yesterday afternoon at the Kelly Writers House. Nearly 40 adults and students listened as she divulged secrets to conducting a successful interview, especially getting interview subjects to open up.

She began with a rather surprising and emphatic remark: "The first rule to interview conducting is to forget everything your professors and classes have taught you."

Despite extensive training at Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism, Bachrach admits, "No one told me when I was in school what to ask the subject, what never to ask the subject and what to ask the subjects as you're walking out the door." Experience is the best teacher, she explained.

And Bachrach has plenty of experience in the field, having worked as a TV critic for The Baltimore Sun, as a writer for The Washington Post's "Style" section, as a freelance writer for the former Washington Star and as the author of the novel Tina and Harry Come to America

Her interviewing techniques ranged from "doing your homework" about the interviewee to acting as "their favorite therapist" and talking about yourself to make them feel more comfortable.

"Never follow your editor's advice!" Bachrach proclaimed as she reminded the audience that only the interviewer is in the room with the subject and can make judgment calls about what kinds of questions to ask.

She did, however, cite several questions that should never be asked of women, especially actresses - those about menopause and facelifts - both of which she had made the mistake of bringing up herself.

College senior Whitney Casser, an English major, found Bachrach's advice very helpful.

"She certainly imparted a sense of empowerment and control," Casser said. "The interview doesn't have to be in the subject's hands."

While completing a good interview is not an easy task, Bachrach explained that steps can be taken to facilitate the process; namely, get the subject comfortable enough to talk candidly. "When they start talking and can't stop, then you're home free."

Bachrach was the last of three guest speakers that English professor and Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Dick Polman scheduled to present at the Writers House this semester.