Peter Slen (Photo: Courtesy / Hillsdale Collegian)
Peter Slen (Photo: Courtesy / Hillsdale Collegian)

Peter Slen is the senior exec­utive pro­ducer and a host at C‑SPAN, a tele­vision and radio network known for its unbiased cov­erage of gov­ernment pro­ceedings. Slen was on campus Sunday to talk to radio talk-show host Dennis Prager as part of a live tele­vision event for “In Depth” on C‑SPAN’s Book TV.

How did you get where you are today in your career?

You know, I don’t know how I got to where I am today. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but I feel very blessed to have just about the best job in America today. I get to talk to inter­esting people, about inter­esting ideas, and I get paid for it. What’s been in my favor all my life is three things. One, curiosity — you have to be curious. Two, a solid family, where reading and edu­cation and knowledge are all readily available and encouraged. Three, a strong edu­ca­tional back­ground. Those will take anyone, any­where where he or she wants to go. If you get to the point where your vocation is your avo­cation, life is good.

Why did you want to work with C‑SPAN?

C‑SPAN is a dif­ferent animal. The mission of C‑SPAN is to provide infor­mation and opinion without putting it into context. It doesn’t matter what I say, it really doesn’t. We make sure we’re putting out a lot of variety of view­points. Our ded­i­cation and com­mitment and near fanaticism, when it comes to making sure we’re pre­senting that variety of view­points is in a sense what keeps us alive. It’s the long-form, and it’s the original source that really appeals at C‑SPAN.

C‑SPAN pro­duces both tele­vision and radio. Why did you choose one over the other?

I didn’t — it was com­pletely acci­dental. I was a pro­ducer, and there was an incident where one host was sick, and I got put on the air. I guess I was suc­cessful, and I’ve been on the air ever since. It’s just one role. It’s maybe 20 percent of what I do at C‑SPAN. Most of what I do is behind the scenes. Most of what everybody at C‑SPAN does is behind the scenes.

“In Depth” is filmed live. What do you like about live TV, and what are some the challenges?

The biggest chal­lenge of live TV is the biggest thrill of live TV, which is you’re oper­ating without a net. When we hear from viewers around the country, we don’t see them, we don’t know who they are. They could say any­thing. The thrill of it is the spon­taneity — hearing what’s on peo­ple’s minds.

Why do you feel having the live version of tele­vision is important?

How many oppor­tu­nities are there for Hillsdale, Michigan, or Santa Monica, Cal­i­fornia, to call in and ask a thought leader what he or she thinks? There’s very few. Everybody has opinions, a lot of people have opinions on political issues. They should have the legit­imate right to call in, as well.

How do you keep your own opinions and thoughts from seeping into the con­ver­sation on your show?

I don’t know that I do. I hope I do. I hope you have no idea how I feel about any­thing. I will hope­fully ask fair ques­tions to everybody, allowing them to express their point of view because it doesn’t matter what I think. That’s not why we’re here. The guest is the focus; the caller is the focus. I simply try to be cour­teous and curious.

You were taking ques­tions for Prager over text message and Facebook. How has tech­nology shaped the way your pro­duc­tions have changed?

If you notice, I was on my phone. I was looking at my phone. Tech­nology has changed the show. The pro­duction crew used to have to drag out big screens and teleprompters, and we might have to have a person out here typing up in this teleprompter who the next call is from, but I was getting it right on my phone. Because of that, we’re able to take Facebook, Twitter, and text mes­sages. Tech­nology has been won­derful for us. It’s all right here in my hand. It’s more oppor­tu­nities for America to call in because it’s not just phone calls now. Voices haven’t changed. The way we com­mu­nicate them has changed.