BOB GARFIELD: At a time when publications are trying so hard to differentiate themselves in the media marketplace it's difficult to pick up a magazine or a newspaper these days without seeing some sort of brief question and answer format, usually with a celebrity subject. Of course each publication puts their own slightly different spin on them -- very slightly different spin. New York Magazine has The Big Question. Sports Illustrated has The Burning Question and The Industry Standard has Just One Question. Rolling Stone, The Source, Columbia Journalism Review, Content and Time call theirs Q & A. Vanity Fair's is George Wayne's [sp?] Q & A, and Time's Q & A shouldn't be confused with Newsweek's Questions and Answers. Maxim's entry is appropriately right to the point: We Want Answers. We do too, so the question we asked On the Media's John Solomon is why there are so many questions. His answer.
JOHN SOLOMON: Each week Joel Stein earns a paycheck from Time Magazine for asking 4 or 5 questions to celebrities. So when you turn the tape recorder around on him and ask why there are so many Q&A's he tries to deliver for the interviewer.
JOEL STEIN: They're really easy to do compared to writing cause you get to skip that middle step where you just interview someone and type it -- you don't actually have to turn it into real sentences.
JOHN SOLOMON: But it's not just Stein's laziness. The format is actually easier for everybody including the magazine which can fit in more recognizable faces without much effort. For one particularly sought after group of readers, it's ideal.
STEVE RANDALL: Particularly among younger readers, they do have a shorter attention span. They want things that are more scannable--
JOHN SOLOMON: Steve Randall oversees interviews at Playboy Magazine.
STEVE RANDALL: -- they do not want to read, you know, 6,000 word pieces about an actor or an actress or a director, and I think that's, that's perfectly logical. Coincidentally you have celebrities who are so -- have so many demands upon their time that they are willing to give less and less access, so these two things have converged into the proliferation of these shorter celebrity Q&A's.
JOHN SOLOMON: Randall says Playboy which already runs the grandaddy of the long interview as well as 20 questions has added more short Q&As in order to appeal to young men who apparently like Q&As with their T&A. The short Q&A format also fits nicely into a broader magazine taster's menu trend giving readers a wide array of small portions from which to nibble.
STEVE RANDALL: Q&A's are something you can kind of actually read without sitting down and, and focusing. You can actually read them while you're turning the page which is always a benefit I think.
JOHN SOLOMON: Steve Randall says that in most cases the short interview replaces a longer celebrity interview -- not a global warming feature.
STEVE RANDALL: There's a time and a place for rigorous interrogation. I think that most celebrity journalism there's no there there, so there's no reason to be doing rigorous interrogation. What, you know, possibly, you know, does Drew Barrymore have to confess?
JOHN SOLOMON: Neither does Stein suffer any guilt that his Q&A's will divert Time readers from weightier fare.
JOEL STEIN: I think the kind of person that was going to not read the missile defense story isn't --you know their excuse isn't going to be well I read the Hasselhoff Q&A so I guess I can skip the, the Star Wars package. If anything I feel like I've saved them from reading a whole story about David Hasselhoff by just writing a third, you know, page Q&A on him.
JOHN SOLOMON: Though Stein likes to ask mischievous questions. He once asked Donny Osmond whose Broadway show closed on the first night if he blamed himself or the composer George M. Cohan. He thinks that Q&As are fairer to the subjects.
JOEL STEIN: I mean when you do a print interview the writer really has complete control over how you look and how the - how you're presented. The Q & A, yeah, I can ask certain questions but they're being presented really in a straightforward way. It's just what they say. And it's being cut, but compared to, you know, starting a story with Adam Sandler thinks he's much funnier than he is -- you know if it's just me saying do you think you're much funnier than you are - it, it's not as authoritative and he gets to respond at least.
JOHN SOLOMON: And while the interviewee risks exposure in this format, so does the interviewer.
JOEL STEIN: It takes balls, whereas like you know you can sit down with, with like 'N Sync and be very nice to them and then destroy them in your article back home alone in your office. If you're going to really go after 'N Sync in a Q&A you, you, you've got to do it very up front and very honestly with them.
JOHN SOLOMON: As impromptu as a Q&A may seem, Stein realizes he's getting a performance from most of his subjects.
JOEL STEIN: You get probably a less real side of them cause they know it's being taped; they know every word of theirs is being used -- so they never really get to, to relax and back down and be themselves. On the other hand you're getting a real dose of how they sound and talk compared to an article where there's just a couple of quotes sprinkled throughout.
JOHN SOLOMON: During a Q&A with 'N Sync, Stein accidentally stumbled into one method of getting more candor.
JOEL STEIN: Sometimes at the end of the thing they - I say well I have enough - and then they're like well thanks for doing this - and then they start talking as if we're not recording any more. The tape recorder's still on -- I've just said thank you - and then they suddenly like well, you know, I also want to tell you this - and they just start talking - and that's the only time you get something a little more real -- either at the end or the beginning.
JOHN SOLOMON: Stein says it is tough to do a really good Q&A, but he's not working without a net. Every Q&A is edited, cleaned up, and even the questions are re-arranged to make it more entertaining. In Steve Randall's new novel, Other Side of Mulholland, one of the characters is a journalist who bemoans the proliferation of Chat 'N Chews -- short celebrity lunch interviews, but Randall in his role as non-fiction editor doesn't view all of these Q&A's quite as negatively.
STEVE RANDALL: Well see I, I think actually what you're seeing is a good sign. There was a time, particularly say 2 years ago, 3 years ago where everything was a celebrity and celebrities were given incredible amounts of space in each and every magazine. I think there has been a glut. I think readers are tired of it. They still want it, but they want less of it than they did before.
JOHN SOLOMON: Still men may need to update the accuracy of their purported rationale for reading Playboy. I read it for the Q&A's. For On the Media, this is John Solomon. David Goldstein is a Washington correspondent for the Kansas City Star.