Are you a blogger, journalist, novelist or film maker who wants to get deeper into your character’s head? Consider interviewing someone like your character. I have to take time off from other schedule to write something on the above subject due to some recent embarrassing confrontation between an interviewer (journalist) and the interviewee (respondent). This altercation arises due to some questions the respondent feels was offensive from the interviewer.
In 2013 to be precised, there was an interview conducted by a Punch Newspaper, which was reported by Wale Odunsi of the Daily Post. One of the duo of; Adeola Balogun and Tunde Odesola, had asked whether it is part of the ex-police officer’s fashion to bleach his skin; the former governor of Oyo state. The interview section quickly turn confrontational when Mr.Akala responded thus: “You are very stupid to say I bleach”.
Another ugly incident played out recently where award winning songster, Omawumi Megbele, known by her stage name as Omawumi, stormed out of Da Chat with HFTv interview set, which was conducted by Zinnia, when asked about her smoking and drinking habit. This video became viral on the internet and it was followed by commentaries by her fans, bloggers and social commentator’s. While some supported her action of walking out of the live interview scene, other criticised and called her unprintable names for over-reacting. Some bloggers opine since she was a celebrity and public figure, she has not right to be embarrassed, but to address the question without making any fuse. Please view the video below:
I however felt being a celebrity does not give an interviewer the effrontery to ask provoking question like the two example above. There are systematic and smart ways a good interviewer can get hiding facts from respondent through “joke, mannerism and diplomacy” without acrimonious ending.
In recent time, bloggers, freelance writers and other media practitioners have join the mainstream traditional journalism to perform their role. News collection, writing, and publishing articles in newspapers and magazines or broadcasting them on the radio and television; are no longer exclusive preserved for career journalist alone. One of the key reasons cited for this transformation of journalism is the changing nature of technology, which impacts directly upon the practice of journalism and access to the profession.
Prior to this age of technological implosion, basic tool for journalist were limited, with only heavy, impractical cameras to take photographs or record events. In fact there was nothing like smart phones or the internet. The norms were for a journalist to acquire professional qualification, including union membership. It is also a norm for journalist to be engaged as employees in recognised media organisation and subjects to various laws and ethics of the profession which are almost eroded today.
I wish to use this medium to educate member of the public, the media practitioners; journalist, and especially those who are very active in social media and blogosphere. There is no doubt a lot of bloggers have made fortune out of blogging and the pecuniary benefits and glamour has made some to feel they have all it takes to be successful without proper induction and training and by not adhering strictly to the ethics and laws of media profession. Financial success is of course part of the criteria, but compliance to laws and ethics will do a lot of good for the industry. People are fund of releasing defamatory and embarrassing statements on social media, only to later come out and out rightly denied when there is an outrage by the public by claiming someone hacked into their Facebook or twitter account. However this will be a topic for another day.
My focus is to go into the rudiment of how bloggers and media practitioners can become better interviewers. There are streams of income generating source for digital news organisations as a result of technological advancement. This income source is applicable to free-lance writers, bloggers and independent investigative journalist.
Major attention is directed at the entertainment industry by news media to get some ground breaking news from celebrities. Journalist and bloggers are on the lookout for established and famous figures to get an audience for interview. The up and coming celebrities in turns relied on media platform to hype their popularity; because the industry thrives on gossip and make-believe scene to succeed; in doing this they may even lobby to get such attention from bloggers and journalist. The realities are that the interviewer and the interviewee need each other for commercial benefits; it’s a win-win situation kind of arrangement. There is an offer and acceptance from both sides. Unfortunately such beautiful agreement is breached and turns out to public ridicule because someone thought he or she is being asked stupid questions, while the other parties felt they have the right to ask any kind of questions.
On routine basis all over the globe, journalists pick up the phone or head out of the newsroom. They meet someone, a stranger or a familiar contact. They take out a notebook or turn on a recording device. And then they perform two simple acts. They ask a question and they listen to the answer. An interview has begun.
According to Chip Scanlan, “Interviewing is the heart of journalism”. Sadly to say only few journalists have ever received education or training in this critical skill. It seems nobody has ever teaches the journalist how to conduct an interview, as some expert pointed out. It’s like most journalists only learn the act of interview on the job, mostly through painful trial and error.
WAYS TO CONDUCT INTERVIEW
As media practitioner, there are two ways you can satisfactorily get voluntary facts and information from your respondent through interview. First is to embarked on background search of your prospective target interviewee, and the second one is to get smart by knowing the basis; this means you may not have done a background search on the respondent, but it is very vital to use the given opportunity to interview him or her.
THE REQUIRED SKILLS
There are vital questions you should ask yourself like; how do you walk up to strangers and ask them questions? How do you get people; tight-lipped cops, jargon-spouting experts, everyday folks who aren’t accustomed to being interviewed; to give you useful answers? How do you use quotes effectively in your stories? You must learn these skills, horn it, and let it be part of you.
The following are the vital tools you must know to become a better interviewer:
If you want to flop as an interviewer, fail to prepare yourself. Unfortunately, most journalists are too busy to structure vital question. You need to research on the professional expertise of your subject and the topic, not only that, their work ethics, personality, family and so on. Asking a tight-lipped subject specific question that is not in public knowledge often make them to open up and share some reserve secret.
Craft Your Questions
For a subject that has information to pass across to the public, crafting a good question may not be necessary as they tend to release everything no matter the question pose to them. To get more information from subject, open-ended question is recommended. Unlike closed-ended question that can only be answer by simply “yes or no”, For instance, “Did you embezzle the company’s money? Or Should I date him? Closed-ended questions put people on the record. Closed-ended question is better used when you need a direct answer.
However, open-ended questions are those which require more thought and more than a simple one-word answer, it means you are required to elaborate. Example; what is your favorite memory from childhood? Or why is it that every time I talk with you, you seem irritated? Open-ended question usually begin with “How?” “What?” “Where?” “When?” “Why?” They’re conversations starters and encourage expansive answers that produce an abundance of information needed to produce a complete and accurate story.
Avoid double-barreled or tripled-bareled question that give rooms to subject to maneuver or stop conversation. For example; “Why did the campus police use pepper spray on student protesters? Did you give the order?” This kind of question gives the subject an option which allows them to avoid or choose less difficult answer.
Procedures to follow
- Craft questions in advance,
- Ask question that start conversation
- Avoid halting respondent in their track
- Stick to the script
- Ask one question at a time
- Be flexible: You can edit yourself to suit situation. I mean to come again and rephrase a question that may be ambiguous.
Press interview is a two way channel between the interviewer and the subject. When question is ask, it is your duty to listen up for an answer. In most cases when the question is tough or took the respondent off balance, silence will naturally fill the air.Chip Scanlan narrated the following scenario.
“The 1976 movie “All the President’s Men” focuses on two Washington Post reporters investigating corruption in the Nixon White House. At one point, Bob Woodward, played by Robert Redford, is on the phone with a Nixon fundraiser. Woodward asks how his $25,000 check ended up in the Watergate money trail. It’s a dangerous question, and you see Woodward ask it and then remain silent for several agonizing moments, until the man on the other end of the phone finally blurts out incriminating information”
The moral of the above is to keep your mouth shut. Wait; avoid the temptation of asking further question until an answer is given to the first. People hate silence and rush to fill it. Ask your question, make your subject answer, make eye contact, smile, nod count to 10 in your mind while waiting, but don’t speak. You will definitely be satisfied at the response that will follow. Brady Dennis opines that “Silence opens the door to hearing dialogue, rare and valuable in breaking stories,”
You may need some hard fact about a fugitive running from the law. To get quality information from such a person is for you to be humane and empathise with the subject. Your role as blogger, journalist or reporter is not to ridicule or portray the subject in a negative perspective, but for the TV viewers, fans and followers to have a better knowledge of the personality in focus. The subject may have been scandalised publicly or a fugitive running from the law. There is a long-held stereotype about reporters as people who only care about getting stories not the subject. If you can show sources that you have empathy; some understanding of the subject plight, they’re more likely to open up to you.John Brady wrote in “The Craft of Interviewing.” “Interviewing is the modest immediate science of gaining trust, then gaining information,”
Be Sensitive and Observant
Good interviewer should have more insight of the subject than just to ask question and listen. Interview can take place on the interviewer office, on the subject office or residence; it could be at an event or party. The emotional and psychological state of mind of your subject is significant.
The anxiety is often high to get breaking news into news stand, especially when you have been able to seek the attention of a public figure for an interview section. Such desperation may hamper the quality of your output if your subject is not mentally balance or under the influence of alcohol or other drugs at the time of conducting the interview.
Seasoned freelancer Carol McCabe said “I can learn something from where the TV is, whether the set of encyclopedias or bowling trophies is prominently displayed, whether the guy hugs his wife or touches his kids, what clothes he or she wears at home, what’s on the refrigerator door”.
According to Morgan Lee; “My best interviews often come when the subject being interviewed is more at ease,” “A nervous/tense subject usually gives terse, ‘vanilla’ answers.”.
Use of Words
Great journalist use short but powerful quotes. In the work of Chip Scanlan; in a story about a two-car collision that killed two Alabama sisters traveling to visit each other, Jeffrey Gettleman of The New York Times used simple quotes that illustrated what the Roman orator Cicero called brevity’s “great charm of eloquence.” “They weren’t fancy women,” said their sister Billie Walker. “They loved good conversation. And sugar biscuits.”
The above eleven word quotes were few but speak volumes of the victims. It is meaningless trying to use every quote at your disposal to prove your interview, it won’t be writing anymore but dedication. Quotation is meaningless if not to occupy a place of honour in a story. As noted by Porter, it is difficult to retrieve quote when conducting text interview, it is advisable to use advanced tape recorder in this scenario. It is better not to focus on quote, but to listen to dialogue, that is exchange between two persons that illuminate character which further drive action and propel readers forward.
Establish Ground Rules
There is common trend for instance, you just conducted a great interview with a public figure, a Doctor, Lawyer, Cop or Reverend Father, after publication, suddenly the source opines “oh, that inference was all off the record”, by then the story would have go far in this era of social media. Ensure the subject you’re interviewing knows the score right away.
To avoid controversy that will make your prospective to stay away from interview, assist your subject, especially first timer when a source wants to go off the record. Stop and ask “what do you mean?” Often time, a source doesn’t know. The best way to avoid these controversies is to read all off the record comments back to your source. Some time you will realised the source changed their minds once they’d heard what they were to be quoted as saying.
Take time to read through your text interview, play back the audio or video interview. Transcribe the question and the answers to the interview. Critically take your time to observe if you are more into conversation stoppers than starters? Are you the type that steps on your subject’s words the moment they are opening up? How is your countenance? Do you sound interested and caring while listening to the subject or a badgering prosecutor? To be a better interviewer, you must dedicated time to study your weak and strong point to rich conversation and richer stories.
My next article will delve on what transpire behind the scene before and after an interview is conducted. Please readers’ comments and feedback is appreciated.