Emma Cook

Emma Cook

The Broadcast Journalist for BBC Wales, Sport, shares her good interview guide to help you write your next ground-breaking story.

First things first...

  • What's the story? You can either find you own story through your contacts, press releases or the news, or you might be assigned a story, such as Mike Ruddock naming the Wales squad.
  • Have a plan. From the start through to transmission you need to have a plan in your head. It might change if the interviewee says something unexpected, so you've got to be able to adapt. You need a clear idea of what you're trying to achieve - what do you want the audience to know?
  • Time to talk. Chat to the interviewee before you meet them. Lay out what you want to do, and find out what you both want out of the interview - it's a 2-way thing between you. Ask for their input: "What do you think about doing this...?" There's nothing worse than turning up and not knowing what you're doing because it's a waste of time.
  • Do your research. Have a look on the internet; talk to your colleagues - have they interviewed this person before?; Discuss the interview with the editor or producer to get other ideas;
  • Go with the flow. Some people do the research, discuss it, and then write a list of questions. I prefer to research and then write notes - the key points, dates, goals etc. I prefer listening and reacting to things. Sometimes you can stick to a list too much when the interview might be going in a different direction. The questions come from your research. It's a stream of consciousness.
  • Preparation is crucial - vital - to doing a successful interview. One hour spent planning saves time on the shoot and on the return to the office. You have to go out knowledgeable otherwise the interviewee will know. But if you don't do a very good interview with someone, because you were ill-prepared, for example, they won't help you in the future. Interviews are about learning - you want to be told something new, but you need a basic level of knowledge first.

In the interview...
  • Ask short questions. Only ask one question at a time. Long questions which require lots of different answers can confuse the interview. Be clear about exactly what you're asking.
  • Be friendly and approachable. People are more likely to more likely to tell you something if you're friendly. If appropriate - be casual. But if it's a hard-hitting interview the casual approach won't work. You've got to develop the relationship with the interviewee. How are they most comfortable? Judge the right way to approach them.
  • How would you feel? Remember that it's weird being interviewed and having a tape or camera under your nose. Unless they're a press officer, it's not something people are used to doing on a daily basis.
  • Communication is crucial. You've got to talk to the editor and cameraperson. They're your eyes because you can't see what they're filming.. If you're doing a radio interview it's a lot more individual - as you're the reporter and the editor. In TV you've got the commissioners, the camera crew, editors, the technical cue to put it out, the presenters to read it...there's a huge team for one two minute piece.
  • Be on the ball. You need to listen and react and think on your feet, especially if the interviewee starts going in a different direction than expected because it could lead somewhere interesting! It's important to stay focused.
  • If at first you don't succeed... Know what you want out of the interview. You're always looking for a good couple of answers. If you don't get what you're after, ask the same question in a slightly different way, or ask them again later when they're more comfortable.
  • Set the mood. Your first question could be a 'throwaway' question. I don't mean 'what did you have for breakfast', but perhaps something easy that you already know the answer to, and will get them relaxed and in the mood to be interviewed. For example, ask about last weekend's game, especially if they won, because the answer will probably have already been broadcast.
  • Easy does it. Leave the 'harder stuff' until towards the end of the interview, unless you've only got 5 minutes - you've got to make a judgement in terms of the pressure you're under. If you started with 'are you going to get fired', they'll probably hate you straight away! They'll become defensive and won't answer any of your other questions properly. If you ask them later, when they're more relaxed, even if they don't want to answer that question, at least you've got material from earlier in the interview to use. You've got to judge boundaries. Some people are defensive and others are open. Some might walk off, others will answer the question.

Back at your desk...
  • Get the story straight in your mind. The audience has got to trust you. If you're muddled and unclear - they won't so you need to get the facts right and know what the story is.
  • Use your judgement. Have a listen or read through the material, log the clips so you know where everything is and select what you want using your editorial judgement. Decide what's good and what's bad. You should be looking for the strongest news line from the interview to lead on.. You need 3-4 strong, informative clips that tell you something about the story you're portraying. You need to figure out how to put the clips into the piece to tell the story and convey it to the audience.
  • Know your audience. Some viewers will come to the story cold, and some will already have some knowledge. If you don't choose the right clips or write a good script you'll lose people. If you're working for a mid-week sports programme, you can assume that the audience has a slightly higher knowledge of sport than the Radio Wales or Wales Today audience. You've got to strike a balance, but never use jargon. If you assume they've got more knowledge than they have they'll switch off.
  • Keep it simple and snappy. Write scripts and links without jargon. Always be clear and interesting. People have got short attention spans, so the story needs to be interesting from the presenters' cue until the end - either by being new or told in a different way.
  • Make it interesting. I've done visually interesting pieces that haven't always been the best, most ground-breaking story, but it's how you tell it. Use the right clips, bits of interview, the right pictures etc.

If I know I'm prepared, I can relax and enjoy it.

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