You’re right to think that quotes will be essential to any story of that nature, but you’re also right in assuming that getting people to talk about sensitive subjects can be tricky. Here are some tips for handling an interview regarding any sticky situation:
Be a decent human first, and a reporter second. Whether someone witnessed a crime, has been victimized by bullies, or has suffered a loss, compassion is key in this interview process. It is okay for you to say something like “I’m so sorry for your loss” or “I’m sure this is difficult to talk about.” If you know your interviewee will be upset, bring some spare tissues in addition to your tape recorder and notebook. Showing your interviewee that you understand they are struggling and you’re not just a stickler reporter looking for a quote will allow them to relax. If and when they do decide to open up to you, make sure that you are actively listening to what they have to say.
Keep your cool. In any high-stress situation, your interviewee will be on edge. Whether they get defensive or burst into tears you will have to be able to remain calm in order to follow through with the interview. Part of being a good journalist means having thick skin.(Don’t worry, your skin will get thicker with practice.) You can’t allow your emotions to get the best of you. If your interviewee gets heated, allow them time to cool down and regain composure. Reassure them that it’s okay for them to take their time.
Check and double-check your prepared questions. When preparing for this kind of interview it is crucial to pay extremely close attention to the way you phrase your questions. You are going to want to treat someone who has experienced a loss or been the victim of a crime with respect, and handle their situation delicately. After you write your list of questions read through them a few times to make sure that none of them have any potential to offend.
Take baby steps. There is no need to start with the most hard-hitting questions on your list. Start off nice and easy. Ask about small details first, and work your way up to the more difficult questions. If you ease the interviewee into the process they will feel more comfortable with you, and be more willing to open up when the time comes.
Expect the unexpected. In this interview more than ever you will need to be able to think on your toes. You never know how your interviewee will respond to your questions. Maybe they will completely lock up and not reveal much at all, or maybe you won’t be able to get a word in edge-wise. It will be essential for you to roll with the punches. Go with the flow – and even more importantly, go with your gut. If you sense that your subject is getting worked up, pump the brakes a little to prevent them from completely shutting down your interview.
An interview of this caliber may seem like an impossible feat at first, but with enough practice you will learn which methods work best for you and you’ll be a seasoned professional in no time!
What do you think? Do you have any other tips to add? Now that you’ve reached the end of this series, is there anything else you’re still dying to know?