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Journalistic Writing

THE ART OF INTERVIEWINGS

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Journalistic Writing ­ MCM310
VU
LECTURE 44
THE ART OF INTERVIEWINGS
There are three ways to gather information for your story--research, observation and interviewing. Of these,
interviewing is clearly the most important. It can be done in person, over the phone, and now even by e-mail. It
can be extensive or just a few questions. In whatever form, it is the key to the stories you write. Your ability to
talk to people is the difference between being a mediocre reporter and a good one.
Interview types:
1.
The quickie
2.
Vox pop
3.
Ambush
4.
Phony
5.
Performa type
6.
phone tip-offs
7.
In-depth s
CONDUCTING INTERVIEWS: ADVICE
1.
Preparation allows you to ask good questions and signals your subject that you are not to be dismissed
lightly. Read all that is available. Talk to those who know the subject. As writer Tom Rosenstiel said,
"A common ingredient of the superb interview is knowledge of the subject so thorough that it creates
a kind of intimacy between the journalist and the interviewee."
2.
What is the tentative theme for your story and how will this interview fit that theme? When you have
answered those questions, prepare a list of questions. The best way to have a spontaneous
conversation is to have questions ready. That way you can relax, knowing that you will not miss an
important topic.
3.
Mix open-ended questions, such as, "Tell me about your love for antique cars," with closed-ended
ones, such as, "How old are you?" The closed-ended ones elicit basic information; the open-ended
allow the interviewee to reveal information or feelings that you did not anticipate.
4.
Decide how you will dress. You would dress differently for a hockey player than for the mayor. Ask
yourself, how will my subject be dressed? Avoid anything in your dress or grooming that could be
considered impertinent, flashy, sloppy or rebellious.
5.
Think of your meeting with the subject as a structured but friendly conversation, not an interview. As
writer Studs Terkel said, "I realized quite early in this adventure that interviews conventionally
conducted were meaningless. The question-and-answer technique may be of value in determining
favoured detergent, but not in the discovery of men and women. It was simply a case of making
conversation and listening."
6.
Try to establish a rapport with the person early on. You may want to wait a bit before pulling your
notebook out. This meeting stage may determine how the rest of the interview will go. Do you share a
common interest or friend? If so, mention that.
7.
Look the subject in the eye and listen carefully to his/her answers. Be sure to smile. A smile, they say,
is lubrication for the words and collaborator of the eyes in contact. A smile helps both you and your
subject relax.
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Journalistic Writing ­ MCM310
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8.
When the source is speaking, nod or make some verbal remark to show you are listening and
understand. Sit on the edge of your chair and lean forward. This is a posture that projects an eager,
positive attitude.
9.
Observe and record the person's body language, mannerisms, dress, physical features, distinctive
characteristics and interactions with others. These allow you to paint a word picture for your reader
and may reveal something that is not being said. Observe and record the sights and sounds of the
surroundings. Take good notes during the interview in a handwriting you will be able to read later.
Take too many notes rather than too few.
10.
Focus on what the source is saying, not on what you will ask next. Your next question will be better if
you heard the answer to the last one. Listen critically. Do you understand what the source is saying? If
not, ask the source to repeat or explain. Listen for what isn't said. Is the source avoiding a topic?
11.
Don't interrupt, don't ask long questions, don't talk too much, don't challenge too early in the
conversation. You're there to hear opinions, not offer them. Nevertheless, it can help to build rapport
if you reveal something of yourself. Offer your own thoughts or observations, but sprinkle lightly.
12.
Control your physical actions and mental attitude. If the subject senses that you disapprove of him or
his opinions, the interview is doomed. If the subject wants to take you on a tour of her home, office,
factory, garden, etc., accept the offer and record what you see.
13.
Begin with easy questions, perhaps biographical ones. Ask for examples or anecdotes. Use the list of
questions you have prepared and return to it frequently. As Anthony deCurtis, former editor of Rolling
Stone, said, "Interviewing is a lot like talking, but you have to guide the conversation. You have to
know what you want and go about getting it."
14.
If the subject takes the interview in an unexpected direction, go with her/him. But remember, you are
in charge of the interview. Make sure you accomplish your goals and be assertive if necessary. Stop
after one hour. Be alert to the fact that the best material sometimes comes when you have reached the
end and thanked the subject for their cooperation. Be sure to ask what the future holds.
15.
Make `accuracy' your goal. Be sure your quotes are accurate. If not, paraphrase. Ask for correct
spellings. Don't pretend to know something that you don't. Summarize for the subject in your own
words some of his main points. For example, you might say, "Let's see if I understand you. You
mean..."
16.
Tell the subject you will be calling back later to check facts (not quotes) and do so. Make the call when
you are almost finished with the story. Use it as a second interview. Ask about areas you did not
understand, or about areas that will be a part of the story but were not covered well during the original
interview.
17.
Tape-record the conversation if time permits and the story demands. Is this a profile? Does your
subject have a distinctive way of speaking? Is this a controversial topic? Will the presence of a recorder
put a chill on the conversation? If you decide to use a recorder, ask permission of the subject. Place it
off to the side, but where it can be seen. Make sure it is in good working order with good batteries.
Use it as a backup to your regular note taking.
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18.
Assume that the conversation is "on the record." If the subject asks for parts of it to be "off the
record," try to convince him/her otherwise. If unsuccessful, make sure you and the subject understand
the ground rules. Does "off the record" mean you can use the material, but not with her name attached
to it? Can you go to someone else and get the information on the record? Or does "off the record"
mean you cannot use the information, even without his name attached, and you can't go to someone
else to get the information?
19.
Direct quotes from your subject are essential for your story. They allow your reader to "hear" the
person you are writing about. They also create the impression of objectivity that you, the reporter, are
simply telling the world about something that happened. But quotes must be 100 percent accurate. If
you are not certain of every word of the quote, remove the quote marks and paraphrase. However, it is
permissible to "clean up" bad grammar within a quote.
20.
Make sure the quote is revealing of your subject. Avoid direct quotes if the material is boring, if the
information is factual and indisputable or if the quote is unclear. Make sure the quote advances the
story and does not repeat the material above it.
21.
Often the advice given for interviewing makes it sound like a game of wits with your subject. They've
got something you want, and they won't give it to you. You are advised to "flatter them," "make them
feel comfortable," "lead up to the tough questions with easy ones," "don't take no for an answer."
What's implicit here is that there are several realities that you can report. A good reporter reports at
one level. A great reporter reports at another level, closer to what I call "actual reality." Strive to
discover during the interview the "actual reality."
22.
Figure that there is material that your subject knows, will tell you and will let you report. That is the
"reportable reality." There is another reality that the subject knows, will tell you, but will not let you
report. This is the "private reality." There is a third reality that the subject knows but will not tell you,
much less let you report. Strive to discover through every legal and ethical means this "actual reality"
and report it. Remember, journalism is what somebody doesn't want you to print. Everything else is
publicity.
XXX
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Table of Contents:
  1. INTRODUCTION TO JOURNALISTIC WRITING:Practical, THINGS TO KNOW
  2. QUALITIES OF GOOD WRITERS
  3. QUALITIES OF GOOD WRITERS
  4. QUALITIES OF GOOD WRITING:Achieve appropriate readability:
  5. QUALITIES OF GOOD WRITING:Be concise, Be creative, Be correct
  6. THE PROCESS OF WRITING:INVENTION, WHEN YOU START TO WRITE
  7. THE PROCESS OF WRITING II:ORGANIZING, DRAFTING, REVISING
  8. ALL ABOUT WORDS:HOW WORDS ARE FORMED?:SUFFIXES
  9. DICTIONARY-A WRITER’S LANGUAGE TOOL:KINDS OF INFORMATION
  10. PARTS OF SPEECH:Noun Gender, Noun Plurals, Countable Nouns
  11. BASIC CLAUSE PATTERNS
  12. ACTIVE AND PASSSIVE VOICE
  13. MODIFIERS AND SENTENCE TYPES:COMPOUND SENTENCES
  14. REPORTED SPEECH:Indirect Questions, Direct commands
  15. GRAMMATICAL SENTENCE – ISSUES:SUBJECT-VERB AGREEMENT
  16. GRAMMATICAL SENTENCE – ISSUES II:SENTENCE FRAGMENTS
  17. EFFECTIVE SENTENCE:PARALLELISM, NEEDED WORDS, SHIFTS
  18. STYLE: GUIDELINE AND PITFALLS I:COLLOQUIAL VS FORMAL, CIRCUMLOCUTION
  19. STYLE: GUIDELINE AND PITFALLS II:AMBIGUITY, REDUNDANCY, EUPHEMISM:
  20. PARAGRAPH WRITING: TYPES AND TECHNIQUES:STRUCTURE
  21. PARAGRAPH WRITING: TYPES AND TECHNIQUES:Putting on Our Play
  22. ESSAY WRITING:VARIOUS STRATEGIES FOR ESSAYS, PROMPTS
  23. SIGNAL WORDS:Non word Emphasis Signals
  24. EXPOSITORY WRITING:LOGICAL FALLACIES, APPEAL TO EMOTION
  25. THE WRITING STYLES: REPORT and NARRATIVE WRITING, SHORT REPORTS
  26. THE WRITING STYLES: DESCRIPTIVE AND PERSUASIVE WRITINGS, Observation
  27. RESEARCH WRITING AND DOCUMNETING SOURCES:Handling Long Quotations
  28. Summary and Précis Writing:CHARACTERISTICS OF GOOD SUMMARY
  29. Punctuation:THE PERIOD, THE COMMA, THE SEMICOLON, THE COLON
  30. MECHANICS:ABBREVIATIONS, NUMBERS, SPELLING, THE HYPHEN
  31. READING SKILLS FOR WRITERS:EDUCATED READING, STEPS
  32. PARTS OF A NEWSPAPER:Box-out, By-line, Caption, Exclusive, Feature
  33. THE LANGUAGE OF THE NEWSPAPERS II:BROADSHEET NEWSPAPER
  34. News Writing and Style I:WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A NEWSPAPER
  35. NEWS WRITING II:Accuracy, Clarity, Style, Qualities of Effective Leads
  36. EDITORIAL WRITING:WRITING AN EDITORIAL:STRUCTURING AN EDITORIAL
  37. WRITING FEATURES:GENERATING FEATURE STORY IDEAS
  38. WRITING COLUMNS:Column and a news report, Purpose, Audience
  39. WRITING ARTICLES FOR NEWSPAPERS:The Heading, The Lead
  40. WRITING ANALYSIS:purpose, scope, method, results, recommendations
  41. LETTERS TO EDITORS:Four important aspects about letters, Organizing letters
  42. BROADCAST AND WEB NEWS WRITING:WRITE CONCISELY, BROADCAST STYLE
  43. WRITING PRESS RELEASE, REVIEWS AND OBITUARIES:Summary of Content:
  44. THE ART OF INTERVIEWINGS
  45. FINAL THOUGHTS:Practical, Job-Related, Social, Stimulating, Therapeutic