Occasionally we get requests for one of us to appear on television to talk about the historical or heritage issues of the day. Personally such requests terrify me.
In the past, I’ve appeared on camera once or twice to promote museum programmes when I was working at the then Singapore History Museum. I always needed the questions ahead of time so that I could write out my answers, and practice at home before the actual day of filming. Usually I did an acceptable job after a couple of takes, and some reassurance from the interviewer.
Occasionally, I did radio interviews but one bad experience totally put me off any live interviews – for tv or radio. One of my colleagues had arranged for the radio DJ to call me at a certain time to talk about an activity that we were promoting. It was to be a live call. The colleague told me the time of the call – which was lunchtime – and I dutifully skipped lunch to sit at my desk and wait for the call. I waited and waited but the phone did not ring. Strangely, one of my colleague’s phone kept ringing and ringing.
About 15 minutes later, my colleague who arranged the call came frantically into office. She said the DJ had called her to say I wasn’t picking up the phone. Then, she realised that she might have given him the wrong phone number. She called him, and a minute later my phone rang. When I picked it up, the DJ was fuming mad and yelled at me about how terrible I was, and how we sabotaged him. After giving me a grilling for what wasn’t my fault, he said to hold the line as we’re going on air.
When we went live, the DJ became as sweet as honey and I was expected to respond to his questions similarly. I was so rattled that I could barely speak but I had to say something for fear of being scolded yet again by this unreasonable DJ. My voice shook, and I was all “umms” and “ahhhs”. After it all, the DJ told my colleague that he wouldn’t be promoting our programmes anymore because of our unprofessionalism. Since then I’ve never done any “live” media events
Recently, we received a request to help with a news story on conservation and preservation of homes for CNA. I did not have sufficient time to prepare but Jaime felt confident enough to do it. She did a great job, and I’m happy she took one for the team!
Watch her in action (or rather start lecturing…) here:
I do not lecture. But, hey, maybe I do.
It’s inevitable given my line of work. It is hard to give a “simple one liner” or “simple explanation” about things because in history, there is nothing “simple” about much. We can certainly give a one-liner but it will be a one-dimensional statement which gives rise to so many misunderstanding because of the lack of context.
Context is important. Hence I was hesitant when approached by CNA for the interview. Like Stephanie, I never liked being “interviewed”, even though I’ve done it a few times, both TV and radio, for work. But it is a harrowing experience, especially if one is not used to speaking in front of the camera or microphone.
There are so many things to consider, not least trying hard to make sense. It is very unnerving to have a camera in front of you – and lights and microphones – and it’s hard work to try not to sound nervous, or worse, like a moron.
I’m definitely more comfortable writing than speaking. And speaking publicly about history or history-related matters is very difficult as you do not get the airplay to explain the context, something I – and perhaps many historians – are prone to do. Hence, Stephanie’s jibe about me lecturing.
Having worked in the media before, I’m also concerned about my words being taken out of context. Perhaps not deliberately, but the usual limitations of time and space constraints, or of journos’ interest to just get an interesting “soundbite”. These are all anti-thesis to my training.
Furthermore, this topic was hinged on the controversy of the fate of a particular piece of property in Singapore, and I was not inclined to jump into the fray. Thankfully, Liyana, the journalist assured me it was more about the general issue of conservation and preservation.
On a positive note, speaking about history is probably good training to be succinct. Something I probably need to work on.