As a Journalism Student each university session brings about new assignments and projects. This session I am studying ‘Convergent Digital Journalism’ and for our first assignment we had to create an audio interview piece with the theme “Emotional History”.
I interviewed my family; partly because it’s easier to get someone you know to open up and partly because it was a good excuse for me to go home. I asked about living and working on the farm, about their anxieties; about past, present and future fears. I was trying to record enough emotion to fulfil the assignment’s rubric but what I got was a happiness and hope that paralleled the fear. I hope my final edit reflects that. None of them could separate the farm from family, or separate their hopes from their fears. I heard four people talk separately about one shared love.
[From Left] Mervyn, Grace, Patrick, and Peter Ward
So here is my Beginner’s Guide to Conducting an Emotional Interview in reflection of my first ever audio piece.
Go to an interview with questions prepared. It sounds so obvious, but I only went in with an idea of what I wanted them to say, which isn’t enough. There were a lot of “Umm’s” in my first two interviews; luckily family doesn’t judge my lack of professionalism. However, once I had two interviews done, I could see what questions were getting the best answers and prepared for the final two.
Start with easy simple questions that the interviewee is comfortable to answer. I have done interviews before, but only to get quotable quotes for a written piece. This time I was trying to get my interviewee to respond so a listener could empathise. I was worried about trying to get my single syllable grandfather to talk, but even that interview [here] was able to progress effectively once he started talking about topics he liked and enjoyed. I started Grace’s interview [here] with “Tell me about yourself” and although an interview with a chatty teenager is expected it go more smoothly it allowed her to become comfortable before I asked the harder questions.
Also, considering the order in which you conduct the interviews. If you have a main interview and supporting interviews conduct the main one first, so you know what the supporting interviewees need to respond to. Or start with someone you know will be an easy interview. I started with my quiet grandfather who was probably least enthusiastic to be involved, which made a stilted conversation even more so. Because I hadn’t done any other interviews yet I didn’t know the direction my piece would take. We settled into it, but I definitely think my experience could have been smoother if I started with one of the teenagers.
The phrasing of the questions is also important. Consider the connotations of words you are using. I was worried that my family may censor some thoughts around me, especially my Dad. I am the eldest and I grew up working on a farm I always assumed I would be in charge of it one day. Because of this I was worried that Dad wouldn’t want me to feel the pressure of his expectations of me, or see his pressures and his struggles as the head of the family as well as the business owner. To counter this I made sure my questions never placed me in the way of the answers. I asked about Patrick and was vague when I asked about his ‘anxieties’. I think the indirect questioning actually allowed him to answer more openly [here].
Become familiar with the equipment you will be using. I had never used any sort of digital recorders or editing software before, so I prior to starting I made sure I was comfortable. I used ‘Hindenburg’ to edit which I think was a great beginner friendly software, but before I started working on my final product I played around with it. I feel the less confident you are with the technology the higher the risk of a technical malfunction.
I think finally, the thing I learnt was that you can’t just do an emotional interview and just get up and walk away from the experience. Everything you hear affects you. I heard my baby brother struggling with real life choices, and talking about decisions which reach beyond his teenage responsibilities [here]. I have to accept that I view him a different way now. I am so proud of him, but it still makes me sad to see him grown up. And then to hear my Grandfather say that he still doesn’t know if he ever wanted the farm, that it ‘just happened’, when the farm is so ingrained into who I am; it changes things. Every interview changes things. That’s why journalists can change the world. We get to share a little bit of that experience with the world. And I came to realise that that’s the true power of convergent journalism.