A veteran journalist known for quick bonding with interviewees told BYU communications students Thursday that in order to change the world, they must hold fast to personal authenticity while developing stories.
Frank Anthony Curreri, a former news journalist for the Deseret News and Salt Lake Tribune whose work has appeared on CNN and the Associated Press, explained that many modern journalists miss out on deep, meaningful stories by going into interviews with a hard-and-fast agenda and a hardened façade to assert authority.
“A lot of interviews are somewhat mechanical. Don’t be afraid to say something about your own life because it will open people up,” Curreri said. “Authenticity establishes instant credibility.”
Curreri noted that the level of personal authenticity needed in order to gain others’ trust requires setting aside many of the habits and mentalities of modern communicators. In a world where journalists feel that their job titles gives them permission to invade other peoples’ lives, he said, interviewees have come to distrust media. Having an open mind, then, will give communicators access to the most valuable stories.
“I don’t like ‘gotcha journalism.’ I don’t believe in going in and judging people,” Curreri said.
Even if the person being interviewed is a mass murderer, he said, it’s important to check judgments at the door and catch yourself when you label people as ‘other.’
“Say to yourself: ‘these are my people.’ Don’t just say it, but really feel it. The same things that are in me are in them,” Curreri said
Even when judgments are set aside, however, many people may still be reluctant to share their personal stories. These situations, Curreri explained, require interviewers to be willing to deviate from their script and create connections by fostering natural conversation. This practice is what has landed Curreri the most interesting stories of his career, none of which were the stories he expected.
When covering UFC fighter Ian Loveland, for example, Curreri struggled to get the bantamweight to open up until he mentioned the rainbow trout tattoo that spanned Loveland’s back.
“During the interview you have to listen. They will always give you a story,” Curreri said. “They might not want to talk about what you want to talk about, so it’s your job to find the thing that they won’t shut up about.”
The authenticity that comes from setting judgments aside and forging relationships will always breed vulnerability, Curreri explained. This, however, is a strength rather than a weakness in storytellers.
“There is a fear there. To really be authentic and be who you are is a vulnerability,” Curreri said. “But that’s what makes a really good interviewer. That’s why Oprah Winfrey is one of the best: she’s a wonderful talker.”