In the course of having a radio program on WAPJ (Nutmeg Chatter) and a video/internet radio program Black Tie Lunchbox and over the course of writing articles for the Register Citizen not to mention my own Nutmeg Chatter website, it’s safe to say that I’ve conducted a lot of interviews. To put it in perspective, today I conducted two interviews, one with actor Deborah Goodman who will be performing in a local production of Baskerville in Oakville, Connecticut and one with radio broadcaster Barrie Soucy, host of the Miscellaneous Morning Show on WAPJ. In both interviews I discovered the struggles and triumphs each person experienced that they carried with them, new information I did not know previously, and I believe through these interviews others who hear their story can learn from them if they are embarking similar life paths and goals.
The purpose of a good interview is to learn something new and the foundation stems from trust. Not all interviews require some amazing transcendent expose or catharsis, in fact most interviews don’t require that, but whether one is conducting a biographical interview or a “tell me about your event” interview, in all cases if a question has already been asked and answered then the less time focused on those questions, and the more an interviewer LISTENS and CARES about their subject, the more value the interview holds.
With that general understanding of interviews in mind, I wished to respond in depth to a tweet. I don’t go on twitter as much as other social media platforms so it took a while to see one particular tweet but when I saw it I felt it deserved a detailed response.
I was asked “Take us inside your recent interview with the amazing Ralph Nader. What was it like?, What did you learn?, etc” by an aptly named twitter account @ralphnaderfan .
The first thing to bear in mind is that one could spend a month or two doing a series of interviews with Ralph Nader and it still wouldn’t capture all you’d probably want to cover. First and foremost, his pioneering work in consumer protection has improved American life (and saved lives) dramatically. Of course Ralph Nader was a significant presidential candidate. There’s the political activist Ralph Nader. There’s the political pundit of sorts. There’s the author/writer, Ralph Nader. There’s the podcaster, Ralph Nader. There’s the lawyer, Ralph Nader. There’s the Winsted native son, Ralph Nader. There’s the founder of one of the most unique museums in America, the American Museum of Tort Law, Ralph Nader.
When conducting my interview I had a specific focus in mind which was to discuss the Tort Museum and an event that was going to take place in early June. It was an exceptional event that brought two world class cartoonists/illustrators to the community, Matt Wuerker of Politico and Barry Blitt of the New York Times. You have to keep your focus in mind if you’re going to spend the interviewee’s and your time wisely. It would make no sense to travel across tangents that, say, a biographer would explore when your goal is to create a compelling article about an upcoming event. My goal was to understand the many facets of the upcoming event and its importance to the community and to my interviewee.
Now prior to my interview with Mr. Nader I had the pleasure of interviewing the Executive Director of the museum, Rick Newman (for my radio program) and I enjoyed an extensive interview with Matt Wuerker, one of the guests of honor and I used that interview as a basis for a separate article about the event . I had reached out to Barry Blitt but we weren’t able to connect in time for print but I hope to interview him and write about his work at a later date as he was warm and gracious and funny in person at the event itself.
I had a half hour to conduct the interview with Mr. Nader which was very generous and I appreciated every moment and did not waste time.
I took the task seriously.
For example when I found that my personal auto would be required for my family’s needs that day (we have one car for our family), I didn’t chance it and rented a car at my own cost to make sure I didn’t reschedule.
I was prepared with my phone to record the audio (so I would not rely on my memory) and had a pad of paper and a pen in case my subject wished to not have an audio recording of the interview.
I am a listener to the Ralph Nader podcast and an avidreader of his articles/think pieces that are often run in the local paper for which I was writing this article in a freelance capacity. In addition I attended some of the Tort Museum’s events and heard Mr. Nader speak on multiple occasions. So suffice it to say that I had done my research and in this particular interview setting we could speak the same language in terms of context. At one point I quoted a phrase back to Mr. Nader that was in, fact, a quote Ralph attributes to his father.
Putting in the time to do one’s homework before an interview shows respect for the time of the interviewee and will result in a better interview.
As a subject of the interview, Mr. Nader was on point, often funny and a singular evangelist for the rights of the working class. What I found shocking in a way, though I had heard his statistic before but it always shocks when I hear it, the ratio of personal lawsuits filed for wrongful injury per capita is less than it was in centuries past. In other words despite all the rhetoric one often hears from the vacuum of corporate-run media, we aren’t particularly more of a litigious society as we were in the past and regardless of calls for ill-advised “tort reform” the right to file an action in court for wrongful injury is one lever of power that is owned by all and can be utilized without anyone else’s (especially those in power) permission.
The tort law museum is a labor of love for Mr. Nader and that’s so readily apparent one doesn’t have to be an expert in reading people to see it. “There’s no law museum in the world devoted to the law of torts, by the way there’s no law museum in the world period of any kind, what better place than our home town (Wisted), which is part of the industrial revolution where a lot of workers got chewed up, irradiated, killed by dangerous machinery, exposed to toxic chemicals and dust and paid the price,” says Ralph Nader.
We talked about art and it’s position in the museum.
“One of the reasons why there hasn’t been a law museum of any kind in the world is that they haven’t figured out how to make it visible and vibrant and memorable and in this case the artists figured it out. one reason is instead of just doing the dry textbooks of law or statutes or regulation, this museum relates to everyone’s experience. when they (the public) walk out of this museum, unlike a sculpture museum or modern art museum, they’re thinking, “my uncle get hurt in this crash, my friend had an infection in a hospital…the flammable fabrics…workplace hazards…” it relates to everyone’s experience,” says Nader.
Now for a fuller picture, I’m a cartoonist myself so this event that was to be held was right within my wheelhouse. I have a comic strip that runs in the Register Citizen and in a central New York newspaper. I think my genuine enthusiasm was recognized. Claire Nader was there and she was a gracious host; she offered me a water and shared in the conversation. I was humbled to know she was aware of my comic strip-my last name tends to stick out.
During the conversation we discussed satire and the present political climate. It was an enjoyable discussion and fit within the discussion of the event which was called “If it doesn’t please the court: Two Ink-Stained Wretches on the Art of Political Satire” but I found that within the context of the article I was writing it wouldn’t have served the purpose of the story. to include any quotes from that section of our conversation.
The focus on the story was the event with cartoonists and as I said, this is right within my wheelhouse.
In the conversation I learned about plans for an upcoming event in the fall ands plans for a particularly interesting permanent exhibit which is exciting but still in the exploratory stages and I hope to cover these events when they occur but again, the information wasn’t suitable for the article. We focused on the museum, what it does and how the event ties in with the mission of the museum and in turn, would be of interest to those in the community.
Ralph Nader shared that one quote received from a visitor to the museum was that the guest had been to hundreds of museums but “this is the first one that respects my intelligence.” That was clearly important to the founder of this museum. In fact the museum gets visitors from all over the world but there are fewer visitors from their own backyard, like Torrington.
Truth be told that’s the story all over, at least locally.
I’ve talked to numerous founders and managers of arts/culture establishments throughout northwest Connecticut and the story is often remarkably the same. Often the arts/culture destinations that are worth traveling to from great distances are rarely visited by those within walking distance or a fifteen minute drive.
It was here that we had a dialogue about the concept of scarcity (the museum isn’t going anywhere so it can be visited ANY week which can lead to procrastination which may eventually lead to no visits at all) and the importance of events such as the one that was about to occur in driving public attention.
At the end of the half hour, I made way for another interview. I believe they had cameras and may have come to film a news piece or a documentary.
I hope to have further discussions in the future with Mr. Nader and I hope for the future success of the museum.
I hope that this describes at least in part the experience, the useful parts of the experience anyway, that someone who might wish to conduct an interview can learn from if one so chooses.
At the end of the experience I wrote two articles for the newspaper, I conducted a radio interview for WAPJ, a concluding article for Nutmeg Chatter here and most importantly, I took my daughter, who is an aspiring artist herself, to the event itself and together we met Matt Wuerker, Barry Blitt and Ralph Nader. I hope in sharing this part of the experience you may also discover the American Museum of Tort Law and possibly rediscover Ralph Nader’s works (his books, podcast, articles).
To discover the American Museum of Tort Law LIKE them on facebook and find them online at https://www.tortmuseum.org/
To discover the Ralph Nader radio hour podcast go to
All the best.
-J. Timothy Quirk