On Asking The Difficult Questions

Most reporters save the hard questions for the end of an interview. The reason for doing so is simple: It’s much easier to get an interview subject to open up to an interviewer on a touchy, difficult or otherwise challenging subject once you’ve gotten to know them a bit and they feel slightly warm towards you, than if you blurt out a question that might potentially cause offense right at the start. If you get off on the wrong foot at the beginning of an interview, you may cause the subject to clam up entirely and be forced to chat about the weather or exchange gardening tips for the remainder of the session.

A few weeks ago, I interviewed the new artistic director of a theatre company for a profile story. The conversation went pretty well. The director, whom I shall call Gina, was friendly and helpful and gave me lots of interesting information about herself.

I didn’t think I had anything potentially difficult to ask her, so I felt relaxed throughout. But right at the end of the interview when the topic of Gina’s age came up — a routine journalist’s question, or so I’ve always thought — I suddenly felt like I’d asked the director to admit to an adulterous affair or reveal secrets about her mother’s boudoir.

“Why do reporters always ask women that question?” Gina asked me in a ticked-off voice. “They never ask men.” I told her that this was simply not true: Asking the age of an interview subject is a normal thing. Reporters — at least the good ones — don’t discriminate between the sexes. And yet Gina was not happy. She kept going on about how much she hates to state her age and couldn’t understand why readers would possibly interested in knowing such a detail.

Gina isn’t the first person I’ve heard complain about being asked their age in an interview, though most people are pretty good-natured about it and generally give you the information after being momentarily coy.

But Gina is definitely the first person I’ve come across who gave the following as a reason for not wanting to reveal her date of birth: “I don’t think it would be so easy to get funding if people knew my age,” Gina said. “Funders generally prefer giving money to younger people.” I find this incredibly hard to believe. And if it were true, I doubt very much that Gina has ever run into this problem herself: the woman looks about 15 years younger than she actually is. (Though she didn’t want me to print her age in my story, I found it out from another source.)

I’d be interested in hearing from anyone who feels that they’ve been discriminated against as an artist by funders as a result of them knowing their age. Similarly, feel free to share your views and stories about the issues inherent in revealing one’s age to the media as an artist.

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Comments

  1. says

    Hi Chloe,
    Age is a touchy issue as it’s an intimate detail in which others use to judge us.
    I’ve discussed this issue in my blog. In the visual arts, an artist’s age is published in the catalog, but not the curator’s or the museum director’s. Why is there such a discrepancy or double standard?
    I think it feeds into the idea of discovering young artists so the age of the artist is used in determining the quality of the art. And many arts grants are awarded for youth and not for wisdom, unfortunately.

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