The host says ‘Thank you.’ You say …

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The on-air back-and-forth between an NPR host and a reporter is so much a part of the public radio lexicon that by now we take its structure for granted. But let’s go over it for a second.

Host A introduces reporter B during, say, All Things Considered.  They talk to each other for maybe a minute, setting up the interview that the reporter recorded earlier. Then they play the tape and talk for a bit afterwards until A says something like “Thanks, B.”

And that’s about it. Nothing to see here.  That is, until we get to the reporter’s goodbye.

How do they usually go? “Thank you for having me” is popular. So is “No problem.” Sometimes a segment ends with “My pleasure” or, more recently, “Good to be with you.” And NPR listeners have become accustomed to David Folkenflik’s “You bet!”

But occasionally you hear a much more interesting response — an outlier that, when I first heard it, made my head pop up and swivel like one of those meerkats on Nature. It’s the deceptively simple “You’re welcome.”

Under normal circumstances, it wouldn’t trigger a neurological alert. But something about hearing a reporter end a live two-way with “You’re welcome” caused my inner journalist’s lizard brain to wake up from its nap and open one eye. 

It left me feeling disoriented and confused, as if there had been some kind of an epistemological earthquake. Had the world had gone mad? (Don’t answer that.) Had our elderly cat suddenly stopped hissing at our new puppy? Had my two sons started calling me “sir”?

Exactly what was I reacting to? Normally there’s nothing about “You’re welcome” that would so unscrew my bulb. There was something wrong, but what was it?

 Since “Thank you” and “You’re welcome” go together all the time, that couldn’t have been what was bothering me. Until I looked more closely at the basic scenario: I give you a gift. You say thanks, and I say, “You’re welcome.”

Simple enough. But how is that different from the exchange I heard that first got my attention?

Consider the following analogy. Say you’ve thrown a lovely dinner party that’s coming to a close. As your guests depart, you might say “Thanks for coming” as they’re going through the door. An appropriate response from one of them might be “Thank you for having me” or “My pleasure” or “Thanks for having me.” But no one would ever respond with “You’re welcome.”

Even if Donald Trump had been one of your guests, he’d know better than to say “You’re welcome” as he’s buttoning his coat. I think we’d all agree that “You’re welcome” as you’re leaving a party is just bad form, with a sprinkle of hubris. As if you’re the gift.

I have it on good authority that NPR News doesn’t regularly throw dinner parties, even though their anchors are called “hosts.” So the next time you’re listening to Morning Edition and you hear a reporter end the conversation with “You’re welcome,” just smile to yourself and maybe chuckle a little, knowing that not everyone has good manners.

Bob Mayer has made TV for CBS News, NBC News, MSNBC and CNN. In addition, he’s narrated a number of documentaries for public television. To help himself get through these trying times, like many people these days, he got himself a puppy.

12 thoughts on “The host says ‘Thank you.’ You say …

  1. The dinner party analogy doesn’t fit.

    At a dinner party, the host is providing the service. So, of course it wouldn’t make sense for the guest to end the night with “you’re welcome.”

    But during a host-reporter interview, the reporter is providing the service, sharing the information she worked hard to gather. So, it’s perfectly fine for the reporter to respond to the host’s “thank you” with “you’re welcome.” This to me makes more sense than repeating “thank you,” “thanks for having me,” or something along those lines.

    The most important thing is for the reporter to just end the way they want to end — whatever comes natural to them.

  2. Dear Bob,

    Thank you for your commentary! And I won’t be offended if you say “You’re welcome,” because you exerted some effort putting it together and used the knowledge you acquired over your years working at numerous media outlets to write it. I appreciate it.

    You were thoughtful and offered something that wasn’t there before…kind of like what a reporter does when they take the time to pull together a large number facts; record, edit, and produce tape; and share the insight and experience they gained reporting the story to create a nuanced two-way (often I might add on very short notice and very late into the night or early in the morning.)

    Is it part of their job for which they are paid? Yes, but hopefully they are also offering their best efforts to listeners because that’s what journalists who care do. So is it so bad for a host to acknowledge that effort on behalf of the news organization and the listener and have the reporter acknowledge it (because they took time to do their best) and not be called rude or ill-mannered for it? Sounds rather mannerly to me.

    You’re welcome,
    Kyle Gassiott

    PS. I have actually been told by editors at NPR and other places when I scripted my response to a host as “Thank You” that it is incorrect and the proper response should be “Your Welcome.” So it was changed.

    • Thank you can be used in a condescending way if you’re dealing with a passive aggressive. You’re welcome is fitting in these circumstances.

  3. I agree with Charotte Gray. To me, the host represents the listener, and the guest is providing something of value. You’re welcome feels like the right response. “No problem” never seems a correct response to someone thanking you. “Thank you for having me” diminishes the guest’s view of the value of their work.

  4. To my ear, “thanks for having me” is like nails scraping a chalkboard, jarring. As Charlotte noted, the person interviewed has provided something of value. Thanking the host for “having me,” apart from sounding really weird, says, in effect, thank you for deigning to see the value in my views/expertise. To use a term so in vogue today, it signals a power imbalance, that the person interviewed is somehow desperate for acceptance from the mighty NPR or whoever. Yet they were invited on for their expertise, which they are offering freely (and probably for free unless it’s a staff member). “You’re welcome” maintains equality in the power balance, and is highly appropriate.

    There’s an argument to be made that if the person interviewed is a paid staffer, an appropriate response might be, “It’s what I’m paid for,” or, “Just doing my job!” I’ll settle for, “You’re welcome.”

    You’re welcome.

  5. Bob Mayer,
    Could not disagree with you more on this point. The responses you find so casually acceptable–especially “Good to be with you,” but also “no problem” and “my pleasure”–grate on me. To me they sound as if the reporter thinks she’s a guest, generously sharing her time and insights. This is her job. It makes perfect sense for a host to thank her for a job well done, and perfect sense for her to acknowledge that thanks with “you’re welcome.” (Or with “thanks,” because we all know a reporter is grateful for air time.) But please, not “Good to be with you.”

  6. I think “You’re welcome” is very appropriate and wish more reporters would do it. To me, hearing a reporter say “Thank you” or some such, if spelled out in full would equal “Thank you for giving me the opportunity to display my reporting skills.” This is very different from interviewing, say, an author, where it translates to “Thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk about my work.” It’s appropriate in that context, jarring when it’s a from a reporter.

  7. Bob – Just wanted you to know thank you for this article and I agree with you. Thought it would be good to say that since all the comments here thus far are disagreeing with you and you should know you have readers who do agree. Congrats on the puppy!

  8. Here is one PD’s take on this.

    End the 2-way by mentioning the reporter’s (or interviewee’s) name “That’s the BBC’s Leeese Doucette in Beirut” … and move on to the next, or reset if that’s more in order. The back and forth at the end of a routi9ne interview or debrief is, to my ear, a momentum stopper and an opportunity for tune-out.

  9. I confess I am not a fan of “my pleasure.” I don’t know why, it just grates on me. (shrugs) Maybe I’ve got some deep, subconscious New England Puritan reaction to the word “pleasure”??? :-/

    I personally find “you’re welcome” to be more natural than you do, although I hadn’t thought of the dinner party analogy and that’s a good one. Still, the reporter is providing the listener with something of value. There is a transaction of sorts occurring: valuable information from the reporter in exchange for valuable time of the listener. But the value of each is unequal. After all, the listener is spending that time no matter what. The “cost” to them is the same either way. That means there is a debt incurred by the listener to the reporter. Ergo, it is not inappropriate for the listener to thank the reporter (via the host) and the reporter to acknowledge it with a “you’re welcome.”

    Now that’s the actual dynamic, but it’s not necessarily how a station WANTS to frame the dynamic. If the point of the station is that it’s member-driven, and therefore is a club of sorts, then that changes the power dynamic to one where the reporter and listener are equals: the reporter provides information of value, and the listener provides money to support the reporter. Now the two things being exchanged are of equal value (psychologically speaking) and a “you’re welcome” is probably less appropriate. I think the “thanks for having me” is a decent compromise.

    BTW: I think Duncan makes an excellent point. The counterpoint, of course, is that the thanks/welcome thing is a ritual and it’s a ritual Americans have come to expect. It could be an opportunity to tune out, yes, but it’s also natural pause to let yourself feel like you’ve come to the end of one story and your brain is now prepped to begin a new one. I don’t know how one quantifies this effect so that it can be measured in a way that might provide better data to support either of our analyses, though.

  10. I’m responding from Canada, and how I wish we could do away with the host/reporter “thank you/you’re welcome” two-step!
    Much better is the host simply saying: “That’s Charlie Brown bringing us the latest from Timbuktu” or something similar. Result: the reporter is duly acknowledged and the show moves along without tedious filler.

    CBC talk radio hosts who often must fill as much as 3 hours per show routinely thank presenters who chime in briefly dozens of times per show with news headlines, traffic, and weather updates. “Thank you so much,” or “thanks very much” therefor is intoned over and over and over again to the very same personalities for hours on end, for what reason I cannot fathom.
    When the traffic reporter says “I’ll be back in 10 minutes with another update” could the host not just say “Great,” or “we’ll be listening for that, Jim” or preferably just simply move on to the next segment? The incessant phatic “thanking” just wears you down as a listener.

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