Susan Barton has a profile of Terry Gross in today's NY Times Magazine:
Over the years, Gross has done some 13,000 interviews, and the sheer range of people she has spoken to, coupled with her intelligence and empathy, has given her the status of national interviewer. Think of it as a symbolic role, like the poet laureate — someone whose job it is to ask the questions, with a degree of art and honor. Barbara Walters was once our national interviewer, in a flashier style defined by a desire for spectacle. Gross is an interviewer defined by a longing for intimacy. In a culture in which we are all talking about ourselves more than ever, Gross is not only listening intently; she’s asking just the right questions.I listen to many of Gross' shows via podcast, and admire her very much. I said as much on this site in 2010:
Over the years, I've had quite a few people say some very nice things about the interviews I conduct, which I appreciate very much. Recently, a listener asked me who I think does great interviews, and the first name out of my mouth was Terry Gross, the woman who has been hosting NPR's "Fresh Air" for a quarter-century (plus another ten years as a local show before that at WHYY/Philadelphia, still the show's home station).Read Barton's full piece on Gross here.
What makes Gross so good? Three words: preparation, curiosity, and listening. It's clear that Gross has done research on every guest, delights (as I do) in asking questions that the interviewee may not have been asked before, and pays close attention to what they're saying so she can ask followup questions that make the interview a conversation, not a re-hash of the same old talking points. You get more than the same old stories and talking points in a Terry Gross interview.
I don't know how many people are on her staff, but it's clear that she has resources that few local hosts have, from guest bookers to researchers to editors who find audio for her. All of them contribute to one of the most consistently well-produced shows in the business.