Earlier this week I heard somebody describe the contrasting interviewing techniques of Radio 4's Eddie Mair and Newsnight's Jeremy Paxman. They described the softly spoken Mair as like a quiet assassin whose preferred method of dispatch was a stiletto knife, whereas Paxman was like a fox on a chicken.
The imagery of a stiletto knife is a good one. Discreet, slender, perhaps benign, it is not an energetic slashing hacking implement. The stiletto knife is designed to smoothly stab, to go in deep and to be extracted with as little friction as possible. Oh yes, that's Eddy Mair; he's a deadly smiling avuncular assassin.
Jeremy Paxman, BBC2 Newsnight's heavyweight has made his name by savaging his guest. Paxman's style of journalism is often like a pub fight, pint glasses and bar stools being smashed into the hapless victim, leaving the interviewee looking like a Friday night in Croydon.
Jeremy Paxman is still an incredible journalist and presenter, and I don't wish him an early retirement, we still need him and his kind propping up the fourth estate and news media.
With Mair, the victim leaves the interview looking the same as they did when they left make up; but somehow knowing something isn't quite right. Their discomfort horribly confirmed when they look down to see the puncture wound leaving a larger and larger crimson patch just between ribs four and five.
There is a sense that there is an important shift going on in British political journalism. The Paxman playbook is well rehearsed, the lines to take are practised and role played to the point that the snap, crackle and pop has mostly gone from Newsnight. The tipping point has passed, and their falling ratings [I'm told] back my argument up.
If I am right and this shift is taking place, I for one would welcome it. I certainly won't miss the vulpine savagery and nightly chicken shredding, it's not edifying or informative, it's just bloodsport. It's turned the important job of politics and good governance into entertainment. We still need journalists who can ask penetrating questions that will keep our politicians on the edge, but more stiletto knife and less fox on chicken.