The interview…the art of listening and the need for transparency

As I sit here and work on a story for the SCMission2012 project, I am reminded the importance of listening. Many people have many different strategies when conducting on camera interviews for stories. I can remember working with a seasoned journalist who would spend hours outlining his interview questions, making sure he delivered the right question at the right time.

For years, I have never taken a list of interview questions with me to an interview. I rely more on the art of listening when trying to capture comments for a story. I spend lots of time researching the person, the cause, the initiative, and the purpose behind the story. I spend time thinking through the relationship between the person and the story. But when it is time to roll the camera, I let the conversation direct the questions.

The camera is intimidating for many people and sometimes it means that everything we ask will end up in the final version of the story. I guess the digital age has taught us that anything we say can end up on YouTube. So the approach of asking questions based on the conversation can be concerning for most interview subjects.

A few weeks ago, I was working on a story where the interview subject was not expecting a series of questions. Specifically, I started with a series of warm-up questions to allow us to get acquainted with the camera. Conducting an on-camera interview is all about relationship building and trust. This person thought that the initial series of questions were going to end up in the final story, thus revealing something that the person felt was a little to personal for the story.

A few days after the interview, this person called me concerned. I re-assured this person, that these questions were not going to end-up in the final story and I was going to delete these comments from all the digital copies.

We have to listen and we have to be transparent when conducting interviews for video use. We have to explain our process and provide our intentions in a transparent manner. We have to listen and we have to be prepared. The camera is there to capture moments very personal for people and our burden as storytellers is craft the story with utmost compassion.