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Perfecting the Art of the Interview on ‘Longform’

The long-running podcast series, Longform, is a master class in interviewing that's bolstered by tasteful editing.

Jenelle Pifer
Jenelle Pifer, editor of Longform. Emily Evashevski

Brooklyn, NY (January 28, 2021)—It’s telling that Longform editor Jenelle Pifer spends more time perfecting the flow of the conversations on the podcast than obsessing over the audio quirks of an episode—and that’s not a knock on the latter. Longform, the long-running podcast that features authors and journalists talking about their craft, is simply all about the art of the interview and how to present it.

“My approach to editing is to make it as clean as I possibly can, and condensed as I possibly can, without ever letting people hear an edit,” says Pifer. “I do relatively little reordering of the conversation—sometimes it’s necessary, [but] a lot of times, I find that you can tell when the conversation is reordered. It’s more chipping away at the raw file to kind of make the arc of what seems to be the most meaningful themes pop up.”

Max Linsky
Max Linsky, co-founder and co-host

Co-founder and co-host Max Linsky, who also owns the podcast production company Pineapple Street Studios, hit up his friends who worked in audio for interview tips when Longform first launched in 2012. “They would always say, ‘You want it to feel like a casual, informal conversation’—but if you actually listen to a casual, informal conversation, it’s incredibly boring. And that’s part of what the editing process does to it.”

Pifer’s editing job doesn’t begin until Linsky and co-hosts Aaron Lammer and Evan Ratliff wrap their work. Each host books and interviews their own guests over Zoom, recording themselves through Shure SM7B microphones while guests like ESPN writer Wright Thompson and New York magazine’s Olivia Nuzzi record locally on a smart phone, which Pifer later syncs. A typical interview conversation runs 90 minutes, while the final edit clocks in around one hour.

Aaron Lammer
Aaron Lammer, co-host

“Whoever was the host that week will send me the raw tape along with some general notes about how they think the conversation went, any concerns they have, anything that I should particularly look out for while I’m editing,” says Pifer. “I’ve been doing this for about five years now, so the notes have gotten lighter as they started to trust me and know we were on the same page about how we wanted the show to sound.”

After editing the raw audio in Adobe Audition for content and pacing, as well as eliminating distracting stutters and filler words like um and uh, Pifer applies noise reduction and compression from processing built into the program.

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Evan Ratliff
Evan Ratliff, co-host Jonah Green

Although Linsky says he’s proud of the work the Longform team has published since the pandemic began, there are some drawbacks to videoconferencing. “From a technical aspect, it’s hard to have it really be a back-and-forth conversation,” he says. “You do lose a lot in terms of body language, and part of that is just the rhythms of how people talk. It’s hard to know when to jump in, almost.”

One of the secrets of the podcast is the guests themselves. “Do you know who’s incredible at telling stories? Journalists. They’re great, natural talkers and storytellers, for the most part,” he says. “And one of the things that I’ve learned doing the show is that most journalists, even investigative war reporters, most people who do this work are on some level writing about themselves. The most memorable moments for me in the show are moments in which we’re able to see something, some kind of pattern or trend in someone’s work, that they haven’t totally recognized or seen themselves.”