Wide eyes panned across rows of seats filled by Maclay students. The middle schoolers, high schoolers and faculty in attendance were captivated by a recorded interview of former basketball star Michael Jordan, where Jordan explained the exact moment in which his complex relationship with his father left a “scar” on his identity. The interviewer in the recording, and speaker at the event, was best selling author, longtime Associated Editor for Sports Illustrated and Maclay parent Don Yaeger.
Instead of opening the presentation up with an in-depth explanation of his career and pedigree, Yaeger on Nov. 17, 2021, began his seminar by opening a Powerpoint presentation displayed on a large projector in the Maclay Library. The opening slide contained a concentric circle labeled with the words research, connection and breakthrough. Each word pertained to a set of fundamentals that Yaeger has learned to incorporate when completing interviews.
These vital standards, adapted by Yaeger, have assisted him with the plethora of interviews that he has participated in. Ranging in race, fame and financial or political status, Yaeger values the raw, and genuine human experiences and connections he has been able to form with countless interviewees.
“[Journalism] has allowed me to meet really incredible people to learn unbelievable things,” Yaeger said. “If you ask [interviewees] the right questions, they’ll teach you every time. I always try to interview and try to learn from somebody.”
Yaeger’s willingness to both listen and learn from his interviewees has separated him from his peers in the sports journalism world. Instead of asking subjects rash questions to a sensitive topic, Yaeger conducts preliminary research to find a personal connection or quality within an individual that he can expand on. Once the research and connections are established, Yaeger portrays an athlete’s voice in an article or book.
“I just thought it was interesting how he started talking about the meaning behind interviewing somebody and how you have to relate to them on a deeper level,” freshman Zara Jaffee said. “You have to be considerate when you ask someone a personal question and make sure to not offend them.”
As the event progressed and Yaeger continued to recount his stories and encounters with interviewing athletes, students in attendance began to further realize the importance of learning from and empathizing with interviewed individuals. Yaeger’s extensive background and influence in the journalism world added a sense of authenticity to the subject.
“The greatest takeaway for me was to make the interview more personal, so you get better information,” sophomore Anna Britton Brannen said. “The next time I have to write a big profile, I’ll probably ask around about the person first, just to get some previous information.”
Once the final questions were asked and promptly answered, students were left with a new viewpoint towards both journalism and interviews. To young Maclay journalists, Yaeger’s discussion sparked a greater importance and significance in the personal connections formed during interviews, rather than the specific content of such conversations.
“Make sure that whatever you’re doing, you’re also learning not just about people, but about yourself,” Yaeger said. “And that’s the one thing I think that journalism has given me the greatest gift of being a more confident person than I might have otherwise been.”