If you’ve read Ja’s Reporter Rules (Part 1) and (Part 2), you’ll know that I worked as an art reporter for a newspaper for three years before I became a freelance writer. When I was just starting as a reporter, I received a typical manual from the office, which stated the guidelines on being a reporter. The manual helped but only up to a point. Experience taught me more nuanced advice on how to be a reporter, so I started writing down my own rules, and here they are.
1. Create a post-interview analysis: What makes me comfortable? What is the structure of a good interview?
When I was starting, I didn’t know what constituted a good interview. So my interviews were super long because I was just grappling in the dark. One time, I interviewed an artist for two hours and the only reason why that interview came to a close was because he ended it. “I’m sorry, I really have to leave now,” I remember him saying. I was just so insecure about being able to gather enough information that I’d “overinterview” constantly.
So I started thinking about how I wanted to define a good interview. Now I know that a good interview is something that gets background information, gets all the important facts, and, my favorite, an interesting anecdote that illustrates something important about an artist. Once I hit those targets, I’m done with the interview.
I haven’t answered the: what makes me comfortable question, and I confess that I have forgotten about this rule. So starting now I’ll do more post-interview analysis. If I discover anything interesting, I’ll post it in this blog.
2. Writing rules: Don’t do an unconnected introduction that is too far removed
Whenever I read an article with a bullshit introduction, I get pissed. I don’t like introductions that are too far removed from the main point of the article like historical backgrounds or unnecessary personal anecdotes. Those things might add something to the piece, but they are bonus information that should come later in the piece or never at all. Most especially, they should not appear at the article’s crucial beginning.
I prefer articles that start in medias res–you’re there in the middle of the story, and you are curious to find out what that was all about, and so you read on. The introduction should also capture something about what you’re writing and should get the reader interested to continue perusing the article. I use the introduction as a teaser, and then, after like a flash of skin, I pull back, then I do a bait and switch, get into discussing information that are important but boring (learned this from Roy Peter Clark of Poynter), and then I circle back and give them the big reveal. Of course, I’ve probably written bullshit introductions. I’m not immune to them, but I try as much as possible to avoid them.
3. Writing rules: find a scene and mine it
Whenever I am interviewing someone, I am looking for a “scene”. For example, there was one time when I was with a couple of press people and we were talking to a conductor. He mentioned that he became a conductor because of a dream. The other people noted it down as an interesting tidbit but they began to move on to other topics.
I, on the other hand, recognized that the dream was a scene. A scene is exactly like the one in movies or fiction. It is a moment in my interviewee’s life that is particularly interesting and illustrates something about the interviewee. Once I spot a scene, I will mine it, which is ask questions so that I can get all the details related to that moment.
So I asked the conductor what the dream looked like: was there a person talking to him? He said no, there were just clouds and a voice. What did the voice sound like? What were the exact words that voice said? From there, I used those details to paint a scene, which becomes a cinematic moment in my article and I placed that in the introduction so that readers get hooked.
4. Create systems or helpful tools that will help you cope with your weaknesses.
I am bad at directions, but in my job I have to travel to different places. Sometimes, I repeatedly go back to the same place but it takes months before I return to the said place. By that time, I had already forgotten how to get there, so I Google the directions again, and this was such a time waster. So I made a directions file in Evernote where every time I go to one place, I put the address and directions on how to commute in that file. I also added the place’s opening hours, website, email, landline, and cell number. Thus, every time I have to go back to a certain place or go to a different place that’s near a place where I’ve traveled before, I just have to go to that file and I’m off.
5. Learn to speak more authoritatively with interviewees by listening to your recordings and learning to tweak your speech pattern
Ok I wrote this down in my rules, but I don’t follow it as much. I did it at the start and found out that I kept laughing unnecessarily during my interviews. It was like I was so shy about asking each question that I would laugh every time I asked a new one. Really embarrassing. Then, after that, I stopped listening to my recordings in full because I hate listening to my own voice. I only listened to parts of my recordings if I need to review a quote. But gosh this seems like a logical thing to do if I want to improve. I have to find time and the will to do it.
- Answering Questions about My Notebooks and My Writing Process
- To Shift or Not to Shift
- Writing Exercise: The Morning Pages
- Writing Tip: Make a Pact with the Universe
- Click here for more Writing Exercises and Adventures.
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Note: For some entries in this blog, a few names and details have been deliberately and willingly changed by the author. This is a personal decision made by the author for specific reasons known to her and is not an endorsement for censorship.
All the opinions expressed in this page and in this blog are my own and do not represent the official stances of the companies, institutions, and organizations that I am affiliated with. I am a person. I’m not just a manifestation of corporate interests. I have an identity that is separate from my company because even if human beings are paid for a service by corporations, human beings are not owned by corporations.