Interviewing

In the second week of the Radio News Production course we are going to look at interviewing techniques.

Depending how long your interview is you will need to structure it differently. If you’re doing an interview to get one or two sound bites for a news bulletin, you will know exactly what you want to get out of it beforehand. If you’re doing a ten minute interview to slot into a longer news programme, you will need to have done much more research and have prepared many more questions.

Getting started. For any kind of interview though you need to:

1. Arrange a time and a date for the interview and be there on time.

2. Identify yourself to your interviewee. They need to know who you are, which organisation you work for (so in this case that you are a journalism student at HKU).

3. Tell them what you’re going to use the interview for, when it is likely to go out, and whether you are going to edit it.

4. If you are going to edit it (most likely), then you must make sure that are you are truthful to what they said. You must cut it fairly to truly represent what they said.

5. You need to know their name and their job title, or what capacity they are doing the interview in – how they relate to the story (for example, mother of the deceased, the running star’s coach, girlfriend of the accused etc).

6. Sometimes the person you are interviewing may want to remain anonymous if it is a sensitive subject. For example, if doing an interview might get them in trouble with an employer. You need to make sure that you don’t identify them if that is the case. Would their employer, if listening, know it was them? Sometimes you can name them by just their first name. However, if it’s an unusual name then they may be identifiable (I would be as there are only two Angharads in Hong Kong!). In certain circumstances you may wish to change their voice.

Be very careful about using unidentified sources who are making allegations about someone else or an organisation. You need to check whether these allegations are founded – you might have to defend these allegations. If they are not true, you could be prosecuted forlibel. You should only promise anonymity if you can guarantee it, including resisting a court order. In any situation where you are dealing with this kind of issue you should be speaking to your editor about it and taking his/her advice.

7. PREPARE! Know what you’re going to ask them before you meet them. Have your questions written down on a notepad. Research the subject and know what it is you want to find out from them. Check statistics, facts and figures so you ask informed and intelligent questions. You may want to quote them something they said before, eg. ‘In 2007 you promised that you would cut crime by 5% year on year. How close have you got to achieving that?’. Your facts should be accurate. Not everything you read on the internet is correct – double check it.

8. In most cases, I would advise you NOT to give your interviewee the questions you are going to ask beforehand. There are exceptions to this; you must use your judgement. However, if you give someone a list of questions before you interview them, they are likely to perpare the answers and this will make the interview sound dull and staged – sometimes they’ll even write down the answers and read them back to you after each question. Believe me, this sounds terrible!

Be fair though. They have a right to know what the interview is about. You could tell them what areas you are going to talk to them about.

A member of the public who is nervous about doing their first interview with the media is a very different person to a politician who is used to being interviewed. Use your judgement about how to treat different people. It may help to run through questions with the former, but there is no reason to run through questions with the latter.

9. Don’t let them ban you from asking certain questions. If something is in the public arena, you can ask about it. You may want to keep a tricky question that they don’t want to answer until then end though as they may get annoyed and refuse to answer it and any other of your other question.

Sometimes people offer you an interview on the understanding that you promise not to answer certain things. It is up to you to decide whether it is worth interviewing them. Personally, I would be wary of people who try to impose restrictions on you. Sometimes you can get round it. Other times it’s worth cancelling the interview – you will have to decide.

ALSO REMEMBER

1. You are the interviewer, not the person being interviewed. We want to hear from the person being interviewed not you. You are there as an impartial news reporter. We don’t want to hear your opinions.

2. Be polite and courteous, even if you don’t agree with the person you are interviewing. They have a right to speak. You can ask them tough questions, but do so politely.

3. Never agree to play them an interview before it’s going back out. You should have editorial control over the interview/clip.

Some other things to bear in mind – the more serious side of journalism – a few dos and don’ts.

1. The right to reply. If the person you are interviewing makes an allegation about another person or company, apart from checking out what they are saying to see if it stands up, you should try to give that person or a representative from that company the right of reply before the transmission. This could take the form of a statement. I would advise you in a situation like this always to speak to your editor about it.

2. If you are interviewing a child (under 16) they need parental permission or the permission of a guardian or someone in loco parentis (like a teacher). The younger and more vulnerable the child, and the more sensitive the subject matter, the more important it is to have consent. Don’t ask children about things they might not understand. An exception to this rule might be when you are asking children about something totally non-controversial for a vox-pop about, for example, their favourite toy.

3. Door-stepping. This is when you confront and record an interview with someone who is out and about going about their daily lives. They are not expecting you to do this. You can also do this on the phone – call them when they aren’t expecting it. It is a last resort and best avoided if possible. You may do this if you make repeated requests to interview someone about something in the public interest and they avoid answering you, or they say no repeatedly with no good reason. You should check with an editor before you go off and do this.

4. You shouldn’t interview criminals, people trying to escape the law, escaped prisoners or people wanted by the police. You shouldn’t glamorise wrongdoing or reveal details about a crime that could be copied by other members of the public.

5. You should not interfere with any legal process.  Know the Hong Kong rules on contempt of court.

6. Violent content – if you do an interview where someone goes into graphic detail about violence, you will either need to warn your audience that they might find the interview disturbing or not play out that content. Remember that children might be listening.

7. Language – cut out any offensive language. You can be the judge of what is inappropriate language. It is not only about swearing, it also includes derogatory terms about race, gender, sexuality, disability, religion etc. When you start working, the organisations you work for will have guidelines about what they find acceptable or not.

8. Be aware of, and respect, religious sensibilities.

YOUR QUESTIONS

The most important thing you need before doing an interview, apart from your recording equipment, are a list of questions.

Your list of questions will vary in length depending on the amount of time you have with the person you are interviewing and also how much material you need from them. If, for example, you are interviewing your local football club manager about the state of the team before the next match for a sports update, you will probably only want two or three questions. If you are interviewing the Chief Executive of Hong Kong about his five year plan you will want a long list of questions.

So, first think:

* What is the story?

* What do I want to know from this person?

Your questions should be open-ended. That’s to say the interviewee can reply with a sentence rather than a word.  The word ‘yes’ or ‘no’ or ‘maybe’ will not make a clip for your bulletin. I find it helps to imagine your news bulletin and know what kind of clip you want to go in it. That can help you write the questions to get that clip.

When you are interviewing someone to get a clip for a news bulletin, try to think of it as a chance to get three clips. You want to ask your main killer question for the first clip, but then you want some follow up questions so that you can move the news on in later bulletins.

If you have more time you may want to ‘warm up’ your interviewee with some preliminary questions before you get to the crux. As long as it is pre-recorded and not live you can re-record their answers if they fluff or they want to re-take. You can put them at ease before the interview by telling them that.

Remember to listen to their answers. Don’t stick rigidly to your questions if they give you an interesting answer you weren’t expecting. Add in a supplementary question.

The more you do this, the more you’ll hear the clips you’re after when you are listening to their answers.

This is how I approach a news story. I would apply this to the story whatever the source – be it a newspaper article, press release, news wire or tip off.

1. Read the article or wire, or take notes from the source.

2. Ask yourself ‘what is the story?’

3. Write a list of who you want to interview in order of importance.

4. Work out what it is you want to get out of these people

5. Write questions accordingly – maybe three or four each for the first two people on your list

6. Contact those people and ask them for an interview.

For reference, you may be interested to read through the BBC’s editorial guidelines which are available online:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/editorialguidelines/guidelines/