A Fly on the Wall

Reporting can be very difficult at times, but you have to push through- you’re story depends on it.  Ann Hull in Telling True Stories gives great insight on how to be a great reporter.

1.  Observe.  Be the fly.  Sit in the top corner of a room and just watch.  Be that hidden camera in a teddy bear.  Just watch everything and remember every detail.

2.  Live as they do.  Now is when you leave your corner, or the inside of the Teddy Bear, and mimic everything your subject does.  This is how you learn the details and catch things you might have missed.  This is when you experience your subject’s life and truly understand who they are.

3.  Minimize your presence.  It’s probably going to obvious you’re outsider- try not to draw attention to yourself.

4.  Remember, you are not one of them.  Don’t get too caught up in the moment.  Remember your place and respect your subject. Keep your distance and remember, you’re the fly, not the subject.

5.  Check out your subject.  Look for anything you can find.  You want to legitimize your subject so you need proof.  Paper trails and the Internet are great places to begin.

6.  Keep a friend around.  Sometimes writing can get lonely and depressing if your story isn’t going well.  Keep someone around who can cheer you up and renew your spirits.

7.  Think about each word.  I have a bad habit of writing something and never rereading it.  Don’t get this habit reread everything.  Ask yourself, “what about this word?”  “Is there a better word?”  and always look at synonyms.

8.  Learn about the community.  Reading the local newspaper is a great start.  Another great thing is going to a local church.  Also, the coffee shop is a great place to learn about the community- it’s also a great place to be a fly on the wall.  You get a feel for the atmosphere in the community and it really helps you understand your subject more.

9.  Use their language.  If you want to get a story, you have to connect with your subject.  In order to connect, you have to be on the same level.  If you’re in the south- say “y’all” instead of “you guys.”  Simple things like this can really help you connect with that person and build a relationship.

10.  Be as open as possible.  Reporting and interviewing is all about building relationships with your subject.  You can’t build a relationship if you’re mute and have your head in your notebook the whole time.  You have to be engaged and share a part of yourself with your subject.

Good luck with reporting, and if there is anything I can help with feel free to ask!


The Art of the Interview

Of the four different types of information gathering, the interview is the most unreliable.  The first time the interview was used in the newspaper was in 1836 by James Gordon Bennett.  Since then, newspapers have changed forever.

Now, before you interview someone, you must do your research.  Thankfully, with the Internet this has become much easier.  You must pay attention to details, such as the setting of the interview and the person being interviewed.  Your goal is to have accelerated intimacy.  To build a quick and deep relationship with your subject.

Phase one of the interview is the introduction.  You get to know each other.  Next, you adjust.  You ask yourself, “Am I getting what I need?”  Then, you have a moment of connection.  You must connect in order to get an accelerated relationship with them.

Now you’re settling in.  you’re subject is enjoying the interview and maybe he or she sets their briefcase down.  Before you know it, you have a revelation.  The subject opens up and says things they never though they would.  They can’t believe what they’re telling you- but it just keeps coming out.  You want to keep encouraging more revelations so you use comments such as, “I didn’t know that,” or, “Tell me more about that.”  Those responses keep encouraging your subject to throw up more information (sorry for the graphicness).

Lastly, a wrap up.  You put your notebook away and continue to talk to your subject.  This puts them even more at ease and makes them believe you are genuinely interested in them and what they have to say.

Practice with a friend or colleague and perfect your skills.  Good luck with your interviews!


Time To Ask the Hard Questions

Is this really what I want to do? Like, am I even really capable of being in the profession. So far I have to be a wordsmith, a salesperson, and now possibly a psychologist? I really don’t think I’m going to end up getting paid enough for this.

All joking aside, it is becoming obvious to me that being a journalist is something that requires a wide set of skills, and the new skill I know have to pick up is being a successful interrogator. I need to know how to get information out of people using only my words. That’s actually a lot harder than it sounds.

In my limited experience so far, I can already tell that if people don’t want to say something to you, they aren’t going to. Considering most of us probably aren’t police officers, we don’t exactly have the power to make them say anything either. When it comes down to it, interviewing is hard.

Not only are you trying to get information out of someone’s words, but you also have to pay attention to everything else. A communications professor once told me that most of what you say does not even come from the words you are actually saying. Most of what you communicate actually comes out through your body language, so that’s very important to pay attention to. However, that’s rather difficult to do while making sure to take down notes. And then you also have to pay attention to how they say things, like what inflections go where and how long that pause was. Again, you have to do all of this while writing down what they are saying to you and deciding if the next question you had planned to ask them is what you still want to ask or if you should take the interview in a different route. Oh my brain hurts just thinking about all of this.

Interviewing really is a skill that you have to craft, like anything else. To use a recorder or not? How detailed to make the notes. What questions are you going to ask, and how are you going to ask them? Everyone does it differently, so there is no right way. It really is something that has to be practiced. Too bad I’m not really a fan of practicing. The things I do to hopefully have a job one day.