Through Ja’s Reporter Rules Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4, I’ve been compiling all the things I’ve learned so far about being a reporter. This list started three years ago, when I was just starting out as an art reporter. I realized that unlike school, real life had no curriculum, no path, no teacher, so I had to create a system to teach myself and codify those learnings. I hope you find them helpful.
Laugh with your interviewees
Make sure you laugh with your interviewee several times. Up until you laugh together, you won’t have any connection. Laugh at all interviewee’s jokes, react appreciatively to interviewee’s revelations, and they will feel more comfortable to tell you more things.
Interviewing is part acting
An interviewee, like all human beings, expect to have a normal conversation with you. If they feel something’s not naturally flowing, they will become uncomfortable and clam up. Though this is their expectation, you know better. An interview is not a normal conversation because several things are happening to you. You are listening to your interviewee, taking down notes, evaluating what information you still need given what has been discussed, thinking of questions to ask, mentally crossing out questions that you plan to ask but were already addressed in the course of answering your other question, etc. This is why sometimes you have to do some acting. You have to act as though there aren’t a million things running in your head. Sometimes you ask questions that you don’t care the answer for, then pretend you are listening, but really you are using it as time to think (I got this advice somewhere. I forgot where I read it. Maybe it’s from The New New Journalism by Robert S. Boynton?). You do this because you can’t tell your interviewee to stop talking so that you can think. That’s like awkward dead air. So you act, you become strategic, and you make them think that this is just a normal conversation.
Make interviewee tell a story
I read somewhere that it’s more interesting to learn about a person’s stories than his or her opinions. Of course there are certain times when you need to ask the interviewee’s opinions, but more often than not, it’s not that necessary, and if you do, all they’ll give you are cliche answers. Everyone has a story to tell though. They are unique in their particularities, so all you have to do is make sure to seek out those details. Ask them to describe, to be specific, to expound. In the end, you’ll be able to write about a vivid image which concretize what your interviewee wants to say.
Use track marks for your recording and notes
I use a recorder where I can put track marks so I know which part of recording to review to get the quotes I want. This is a lifesaver because I don’t have to waste my time listening to the whole track. I only need the recording for the quotes or if I need to verify something that’s unclear from my notes.
- 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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