ENGLISH FOR BROADCAST
Juwarti Hafsah, SS, M.Si
INTERVIEWING TECHNIQUES: GETTING THE FACTS AND THE FEELING
Broadcasting’s great appeal is that the audience can hear the facts straight from the horse’s mouth. The speaker’s own words lend greater authority to a report than any number of quotes in next day’s newspaper. Listeners can follow events as they happen - live.
GOAL : By learning and understanding modul 13, wish the students can:
1. Have the good spelling and writing techniques
2. Being the good interviewers
3. Giving the good information to be reported
1. Broadcast Journalism, written by Andrew Boyd (Focal Press)
2. Tata Bahasa Bahasa Inggris, written by Erhans Anggawirya and friends (Indah)
3. An Indonesian-English Dictionary, written by John M. Echols and Hasan Shadily (Gramedia)
4. An English-Indonesian Dictionary, written by John M. Echols and Hasan Shadily (Gramedia)
Every scrap of information that reaches the airwaves stems from an interview of some sort - a chat in a bar to get some background, an informal phone call to clear up some details, or a recording for transmission.
The interviewer’s skill
Interviewers are brokers of information. Their skill lies in matching the goods an offer with the needs of their customers. Their art is to tease out the story in the teller’s own words, while making sure every word will be clearly understood by the audience.
Listeners can then make up their own minds about whether to believe what is being said. The function of exposing the viewpoints of the powerful and influential to public debate and criticism is one of the major planks in the argument that a free news media is essential to democracy.
To the best of their ability, reporters must lay aside their own interests, points of view and prejudices. The reporter’s job is not to produce propaganda, however noble the cause; that is the task of the politician and public relations officer. Reporters are watchdogs for their audience, and it is with-them that their loyalties must lie.
Reporters’ skills, their knowledge of the subject, and their access to the interviewee give them the means and the responsibility to ask the sort of ‘Yes, but …’ questions their audience would love to ask in their place. The reporter is the bridge between the layperson and the expert, the person in the street and the official, and a good interview will often test the validity of an argument by exploring its points of tension or controversy.
Different types of interview
The BBC tells its trainees that there are three basic types of interview:
1. The hard exposure interview which investigates a subject.
2. The informational interview which puts the audience in the picture.
3. The emotional interview which aims to reveal an interviewee’s state of mind.
These three paint a broad picture of the art of the interview, which we can develop further into twelve different types, all with special functions:
· Hard news
· Telephone or remote
· Vox pop and multiple
A disaster story?
There are some kinds of disaster story. The disaster story could be meant as the strangely though story; however disastrous it may have sounded, it did make compelling radio …
The hard news interview is usually short, to the point, and to illustrate a bulletin or news item. It deals only with important facts, or comment and reaction to those facts.
Important facts and background will be given in the cue, while more detail and explanation will go into the proggramme-length interview of between two and three minutes.
There is no reason to settle for interviewing the coastguard if there is a chance of raising the crew of the ship by radio telephone. A first-hand account from the people at the centre of a story is always preferable, though here the crew would almost certainly be too busy fighting the fire to talk.
The informational interview is similar to the hard news interview, but need not be restricted to major stories. An informational interview can be about an event - something that is happening or about to happen.
It can also provide background. Returning to the cruise liner story, an interview could be set up with the station’s shipping correspondent, who would probably be a freelance with specialist knowledge.
Informational interviews go beyond the main point to seek an explanation of the hows and whys of the story. As such they tend to produce better extended features than short bulletin items.
The investigative interview aims to get behind the facts to discover what really caused events and sometimes what could be done to prevent a recurrence.
This kind of interview can run and run and often forms the basis of a documentary.
Assuming with the above story you discover there has been a recent spate of accidents involving cruise liners, and this is the second vessel belonging to that shipping line to have caught fire within three months; then your next step would be to raise this with the owners.
With investigative interviews it is only sensible not to put your prey to flight by scaring them off with your first question, so the interview would be conducted something like this:
o How did the fire break out?
o How quickly was it discovered?
o Why wasn’t the crew able to control it?
At this stage it is likely the interview will rapidly move from being investigative into the category below.
No one likes to be cross examined or have their motivrs questioned, so frequently the adversarial interview turns into a war of words between the two parties as the interviewer tries to get the other to admit to things that he or she really does not want to say.
Adversarial interviews run the greatest risk of a libel suit. This is where a person whi has had something damaging said about them seeks compensation in the courts. As a journalist, opening your mouth before thinking could prove to be your costliest mistake.
By nature, the adversarial interview attempts to undermine or disprove an argument by direct and public confrontation. The atmosphere may get heated, but the professional should always resist getting hot under the collar. In the heat of the moment it is too easy to say something disparanging or harmful to an interviewee.
The adversarial approach comes and goes with fashion, but should only be used where appropriate. There is really no excuse for cross-examining a welfare organization about plans for a new orphanage, unless the proposal really does smack of corruption.
There are two prongs to the interpretative interview: the first is the reaction story - a response either for or against what has happened; the second is an explanation of events.
Both approaches offer a perspective on what has taken place, and put the event into context. By bringing an issue into the light it is possible to examine it more closely.
Reaction is frequently stronger and more effective when it comes from someone who is personally involved.
Analysis, explanation or interpretation comes best from an expert eye far ebough away from the story to remain objective.
The personal interview might be a short interview with a celebrity about their favourite subject - themselves, or a longer, more inquisitive and intentionally revealing personality profile.
The interview is intimate and penetrating. To lower a person’s guard to the point where they become vurnarable and yet still secure enough with the interviewer to answer questions such as, ‘Do you believe in God?’ and ‘Have you ever wanted to take your own life?’ requires the interviewer to combine the insight of a psychiatrist with the emphaty of a priest at the confessional. It can make fascinating listening.
The emotional interview is an attempt to lay bare someone’s feelings, to enable an audience to share in a personal tragedy or moving event. The emotional interview springs from the personal interview, above, and is perhaps the most sensitive area of reporting. It is dealing with a subject’s inner self, an area into which the media too frequently trespasses uninvited.
Mercifully, the reporter has remembered that the hackneyed and crass ‘gHow do you feel?’ shouls only be asked to let us share in someone’s relief or happiness, never their tragedy or misfortune.
For emotional interviews the rule is to tread carefully when your foot is on somebody’s heart, and then only walk where you have been given the right of way.
The entertainment factor often palys a part in attracting and keeping an audience. The entertainment interview looks at the lighter side of life, the things that make us smile. If, on board the liner, a troupe of dancing girls had kept people’s spirits up when the flames were spreading amidships by doing tha can-can, then that is entertainment and the reporter who sneers at that angle is likely to get a roasting when he or she returns.
The actuality interview is where the reporter’s voice is removed from the recording, leaving only that of the interviewee. The technique is occasionally used to good effect in documentary or feature making, but is harder to master than it sounds.
The skill lies in building up a clear storyline, which needs no narration to prop it up and in asking questions that prompt the interviewee to give all the information that would normally arise as background in the question.
o Wrong approach
Interviewer: ‘Where were you when the fire broke out?’
Passenger: ‘At the bar.’
Interviewer: ‘Who told you?’
Passenger: ‘The steward.’
Interviewer: ‘What was your reaction?’
Passenger: ‘I didn’t take it seriously. I thought they’d manage to put it out.’
Interviewer: ‘Could you tell us where you were when the fire broke out, how you got to hear about it, and what your reaction was?’
Passenger: ‘I was at the bar with half a dozen others, when the steward came in and told us fire broken out in the engine room. We didn’t think much of it. We were sure they’d put it out. But we didn’t know how wrong we were.’
With thic technique multiple questions are often required to get a good flow of answers. The interview will usually have to be worked out in advance with the interviewee, and several retakes might be necessary to get the important background while still sounding conversational and natural.
Telephone or remote
Interviews may be carried out on the phone or with a subject speaking from a remote studio. Remote studios are linked to the mother station by cables, microwave or satellite, offering studio quality sound for radio, and combining sound with vision for TV.
The scratchy quality of phone lines meanss phone interviews should be avoided where possible. Alternatives are conducting the interview along a studio-quality digital line, going out to record the interview in person, or, even better, getting the interviewee to do the hard work and come into the studio. Use a phone only if you have to, and then keep the recording as short as possible.
With our earlier telephone interview with the coastguard, a clip of that would be used for the bulletin, and, to produce a longer piece, this could be combined with narrative by the reporter to cut out as much phone quality material as possible. Few listeners will trouble to strain to hear what is being said.
Vox pop and multiple
Vox pop is an abbrevation of the Latin vox poppuli, or ‘voice of the people’. The vox is used in broadcasting to provide a cross-section of public opinion on a given subject. In the USA it is known as the ‘person in the street’ interview.
The technique is to get a broad mix of opinion and different voices. Alternate between male and female, young and old. Begin and end with strong comments and make good use of humorous remarks.
Shopping precincts make a happy hunting ground, and one radio presenter was known for his regular vox abour tropical items recorded each week with the same crowd at a bus stop.
Vox pops work best where the reporter’s voice is kept out as much as possible. A single question should be asked, which is introduced in the cue, and the reporter puts that question to people in turn with the recorder kept on pause during questions.
Variations in background noise can make editing difficult, but recording and overlaying some of that background sound, known as wildtrack, can cover the edits.
Returning to our running seafaring story, if the holiday booking season is at its height, our reporter could catch people outside travel agents, and after making introductions ask them:
‘There’s been another fire on a cruise liner, and passengers have had to abandon ship, so how does that make you feel about travelling by sea?’
The multiple interview differs from the vox by taking a smaller number of selected extracts, often drawn from longer interviews and having the reporter link them together. This is known as a package.
Our ship saga is ideal for such treatment. Excerpts from the coastguard and the ship’s owners could be mixed with comment by the shipping correspondent and glued together with narrative by the reporter.
Our final category concerns interviews that people don’t want to give but which reporters are determined to take.
These are usually short and may comprise a few brief comments or a terse ‘No comment!’, which is often comment enough.
Grabbed interviews, also known as doorsteps, are obtained by pushing a camera or microphone under the nose of a subject and firing off questions.
The grabbed interview usually works best on camera, where, even if the subject says nothing, he or she can be watched by the audience and his or her reactions noted.
Frequently there are so many reporters that there is no chance to pursue a line of questioning. If you ask even one questions at a free-for-all, you are doing well. Not that it matters a great deal; the melee and persistent refusals to answer add to the sense that here is Someone with Something to Hide.
Grabbed interviews are often instrusions of privacy. It would be unwarranted to grab an interview with a widow after the funeral or with anyone who is grieving of suffering. Ethically, personal privacy should only be intruded upon where someone’s understandable desire to be left alone runs counter to proper public interest. That could be argued to be true of our captain.
Sometimes grabbing interviews can do more harm than good. Royalty will understandably take umbrage - they will usually speak to the media by appointment only. Similar rules apply to heads of state or anyone to whom the station would rather not risk giving offence. And as with the adversarial interview, there is always the risk of saying something libellous. Bear in mind that your unwilling subject may be only too happy to find occasion to sue you.