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4-2  Preparing Mechanically for Interviews

 One authority on the topic of interviewing, John Brady, editor of Writer's Digest, includes everything from clothing to paper and tape recorders in this category.

For instance, if the writer is going to interview a tank mechanic in the unit motor pool, the writer might appropriately wear the battle-dress uniform.  If, however, the writer is to interview Willie Nelson, the celebrated country-music star, the writer might dress casually.  The writer would dress more formally in dress uniforms or civilian coat and tie when interviewing people of business, professional, or governmental backgrounds.

The writer should try to dress in a manner which he believes the interviewee expects him to dress.  The idea is that clothes make an unspoken introduction of the writer.  Clothes indicate your level of understanding and respect for the interviewee and what he does.  Suitable clothing helps set interviewees at ease, if they believe you understand them and what they do.

Clothes, however, are only one aspect of putting the interviewee at ease.

Since the advent of tape recorders, many reporters have used them in the interviewing process.  Unfortunately, some people are uncomfortable with tape recorders.  Some people have reasons, others have no idea why it disturbs then.

Before using a tape recorder in an interview, explain that you use the recorder to get your quotes right and as a reference for your notes when writing the story.  Then ask if he would mind you using it.  Abide by his decision.  If a subject agrees, but it becomes obvious during the interview that he is still nervous about the tape recorder turn it off and put it away.  This will happen rarely.

Two of the best reasons for using tape recorders are mentioned above.  Another excellent reason for their use is that it allows the reporter to take notes on the most important points while being able to more accurately listen to, and watch, the interviewee for his reactions, presentation, posture, and feelings.  The writer may find these observations useful in writing his article.

Tape recorders also allow the journalist to hear himself, and to study how he conducted the interview.  It can be a good tool toward improving oneself.

If using a tape recorder try to use one with a counter.   Set the counter on zero at the start of the interview and put the recorder where you can see the counter.  When the interviewee offers a good quote or gets into an important subject area, you can jot down the counter number.  This greatly speeds up the transcription process.

There are disadvantages to using tape recorders other than causing some people to be anxious.  Even "new" batteries may be "dead" and batteries may "die" during an interview.  These problems can be fixed by using power cords (extension cords when needed) to plug in the recorder.  but, power supplies can fail, or they may be unavailable.  Equipment can also have internal failures as well.

Another disadvantage of recorders is that they record everything --including ringing telephones, slamming doors, sounds we often ignore through selective listening.  But recorders cannot selectively listen and your interview can often be masked by sounds you didn't notice during the interview.

No reporter should depend wholly on a tape recorder to conduct an interview.  Too many have tried only to fail.  Few writers want to go through the agony of losing an interview, or the professional embarrassment of asking for a second interview.  Few editors will tolerate such failures and fewer interviewees willingly grant a second interview.

The tape recorder must be backed up by the most fundamental tools and skills of the interviewer.  Indeed, many writers stress that the tape recorder should only be used to backup the writer's pad and pen and note-taking skill.

The advantage of note-taking is that equipment failure is difficult.  If the writer goes to the interview with sufficient paper and pencils or pens he should be able to concentrate on his note-taking.  Always carry a spare pen or pencil.  Writer's should match their pencils, ballpoint and felt-tip pens to the environment in which they will be working.  Pay attention to what may cause them to break, smear, smudge or run.

Additionally, note-taking has the advantage of laying the complete interview in front of the reporter.  Tape recordings have to be transcribed.   This often amounts to listening to the interview several times to get what note-taking gets the first time.

There are some techniques to note-taking that will help interviews flow smoothly without being broken up by the task of taking notes.

Writers can make vast improvements in their ability to keep notes by developing a personalized form of shorthand using abbreviations.  Common abbreviations (TDY, PCS, ETS, Mon., Wed., Fri., etc.) form the basis and the journalist should add his own.  Some writers drop all vowels, others develop a somewhat closed list of abbreviations they will use.  The list is only limited by the writer's imagination and his ability to decipher his abbreviations and shorthand consistently.

 

 

Practice Exercise

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David L. Heiserman, Editor

Copyright   SweetHaven Publishing Services
All Rights Reserved

Revised: June 06, 2015