Terry Gross’s Rules

Over wet umbrellas and under the echo of cell phones, Terry Gross,
long-time host of Fresh Air on NPR, imparted some characteristically
straightforward remarks at the commencement ceremony at Columbia’s
Graduate School of Journalism yesterday. The recipient of the 2008
Columbia Journalism Award sampled sound clips from some of her best
known and most colorful on-air interviews, ranging from Gene Simmons’
request that she welcome him not just with open arms, but with “open
legs,” to Bill O’Reilly’s assertion that she “get another business.”

Gross detailed several of the “rules I made up for myself” in the world
of reporting, some of which depart from the traditional journalistic
mindset. These include encouraging an interviewee to skip questions they
deem “too personal” and allowing them to revise earlier points
throughout the course of an interview, citing her belief that both
strategies ultimately yield positive results for the interviewer. The
rules are based, she said, on her own experience and the idea that
“common decency is paramount.”

“Practicing journalism is an awesome responsibility and an awesome
privilege,” she told the graduates. “It grants you access to…the secrets
of the human heart.”

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Elizabeth Tuttle is an intern at CJR.