“If journalism is a craft, interviewing is an art,” says Sally Adams in her book Interviewing for Journalists.
I’ve just bought said book in order to hone this essential skill having spent the best part of a week interviewing 12 artists and writing up the subsequent feature.
A week – a whole week! The problems were two-fold:
1) I decided to record the phone interviews using a handy Skype plug-in rather than take them down in shorthand. It was either that or ask the interviewees to speak at 60WPM.
I remember someone asking what the point of shorthand was at the start of my NCTJ course. Why couldn’t you just record people?
My tutor explained: bar court proceedings, shorthand is a time-saving skill of the gods. She wasn’t wrong. Taping, then transcribing, then rewinding because you missed a bit or you’ve been interrupted by the cat being sick takes AGES. A whole week in fact.
2) The word count for each artist’s profile was no more than 150 words. You can just about say their name and where they come from in that space.
That didn’t seem to stop me asking a wealth of questions, the answers of which, I knew would never fit into the allotted space.
I got carried away. I don’t specialise in writing about art, but it’s a subject I’m pretty interested in. My interviews were more like two-way conversations, rambling on about art theory.
While being chatty and sharing anecdotes can be a good way of putting your interviewee at ease – a point PJ White discusses amongst other things in ‘How to: get the story from inexperienced interviewees’ on Journalism.co.uk – the time factor must come first.
I would never have that sort of time-luxury at a staff job and didn’t want to fall into bad habits. I went to my tutor for a magical tip that would make it all seem clearer.
There’s no magical tip.
She advised to carve up the interviews to see what other stories I could get out of them and to revisit any interesting points the interviewees made at a later date when I had more time.
The way I interview, however, was down to me. It’s an issue of time and money, she said – your time and your money.
I’m hoping the book will be more helpful.
In response to this a fellow classmate said he wanted to be a journalist because of a love of writing and people not money.
I can see both his and my tutors points, but, to me, journalism’s a job not a hobby and thinking of myself as a business requires constant vigilance.
I’m thinking of manufacturing an egg timer that has plastic pound signs pouring through it instead of sand. That should focus my questions.