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Interview: ‘yes’ or ‘no’

December 23, 2009 2 comments

A friend called me to speak on BBC Radio. The thought of giving an interview, especially one that would be broadcast live to thousands or even millions of listeners scared the shit out of me. Shall I say ‘yes’ or ‘no’?

Source: Jason Ralston

I was dreaming something when the call woke me up.

“Yong, what do you think of the Copenhagen Accord? Want to join our live talking tonight at 18:00 to 19:00?”

It was Jessica. She is doing one-week internship in BBC World Service, Chinese Service. She was trying to secure some interviewees for a BBC programme.

We discussed about the topic and I figured out what they wanted:

  • opinions on the climate summit from a Chinese;
  • how the summit was reported in the Chinese media; and
  • what did the general Chinese people say about the outcome.

“Do I have that much information they need?”
“Is my English good enough to go live on BBC radio?”
“What kind of image shall I present about the Chinese media?”
And, “what if I said something wrong?”

Many questions flashed in my mind. I even thought of those people whom I contacted asking for interviews for my TV and radio assignments.

“Did they think about the same things as I had?” I wondered.

“Yes” or “no”

Jessica was waiting for my confirmation on the other side of the phone. There wasn’t much time for me to hesitate.

“Okay, as long as they don’t mind that I am a Chinese journalist.” I told her.

I said ”yes”, for the sake of myself and Jessica.

This would be my first live interview. No matter how scared I might feel, my consciousness told me that I had to do this. If I don’t take the first time, there will never be a second time.

I also thought about Jessica. I could even imagine how much she needed a “yes” answer after making so many calls to secure someone for the interview. Her editor might be whipping her to get things done. (I made myself seem noble, eh?)

How did the interview go?

Well, I couldn’t tell you how the interview was.

It never happened.

From 17:30 until 19:00, I checked my mobile phone 4 or 5 times to make sure it has signal. I thought about the interview and couldn’t focus on anything else.

I looked into the mirror and tried to speak as I was being interviewed. Then I wrote down some key points. And then, I just sat and waited.

After 19:00, my phone haven’t rung at all. At last, I was sure they wouldn’t call.

Why? Possible reasons included:

  • mobile phone is never good for live interview
  • other interviews went too long and squeezed out my time slot
  • my identity as a Chinese journalist might be a concern
  • they found someone else who went into their studio (as I was not physically available)

I’m proud of myself

I felt relieved and happy. You might understand why I felt relieved, but why happy?

Well, I was happy because I said “yes” in the first place. I felt proud of myself. I didn’t have to regret that I didn’t have the guts to go live on a BBC English programme.

True, this could be a small piece of cake for you, and some of you might even dream of having such an opportunity.

But for me, it was not. I dared myself, and the go-for-challenges me knocked over the shy me. It was a glorious battle I won.

I might despise myself if I said “no” in the first place, no matter whether the interview went as scheduled or not.

Something I neglected before

In fact, the aborted interview made me think about interview again.

When we approach people asking them to give an interview, do we ever think about their worries or concerns? Have we ever put ourselves in their shoes?

When I did my TV interviews, I contacted people from Harrow council, the NHS primary care trust, a hospital, and many other institutions. Why was it so difficult to get their “yes”? Some even looked frightened when they saw my video camera and tripod. Did I ever think of it, that people might be scared of speaking on TV?

After all, it’s not about what we need, but what they can or are willing to give.

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Asking tough questions in interview

December 1, 2009 2 comments

Ask tough questions; put some pressure on the person you are talking to; bring up some heat; and “bang”, you make a good interview.  Is that really a GOOD interview?

Mike, our radio lecturer, taught us some valuable rules for interview:

  • don’t make statement; ask questions;
  • make your questions short;
  • don’t ask double-barrelled questions;
  • be informative naive

Apart from that, he stressed “asking tough questions”, and did a live demo in class by interviewing one of the students. He called it the “bang” moment.

Are interviews really about asking challenging questions?

Who won?

In BBC’s Today program this morning, James Naughtie interviewed Pamela Taylor on the prospect of reduced water bills (click to listen). Pamela is the Chief Executive of Water UK.

At around 02:40, James appeared aggressive, and rudely interrupted Pamela to “question” her. You can even hear him breathing while Pamela was talking. Was he still excited after throwing out a tough question?

Then at around 03:05, he sounded so eager to bring Pamela down and you can almost tell that he was laughing inside.

At 04:43, he tried to convince his listeners that he succeeded in trapping his interviewee by stating the controversy in Pamela’s talking.

Keep on listening, you’ll see that James kept on challenging Pamela all the way till the end of the interview.

What makes a good interview?

Is James’ interview with Pamela a good one?

Not to me, at least. Simple put, I didn’t feel comfortable with the way he treated his interviewee.

Judging from above criteria for good interview, James did a good job, but he appeared to be following the “asking tough questions” rule to an extreme, which made him sound as if he was superior to the person he was talking to.

My reaction to that was “who the hell do you think you are?”

It’s hard to tell what a good interview is, but it’s easy to tell what makes a bad interview–an interview that makes your listeners uncomfortable.

An art

Some classmates said they didn’t like the “aggressive style” either.

I would put it this way:

  • asking tough questions is okay, but they shouldn’t dominate the interview;
  • do not use them at will because they DO NOT make you look or sound smarter;
  • when you do ask tough questions, please be polite. Remember you are not a policeman or policewoman, neither your interviewee a suspect or prisoner.

Asking questions is an art, and it takes time to be an artist.

Rewrite: Southern Weekly’s interview with US president

November 24, 2009 Leave a comment

Southern Weekly did an exclusive interview with US president Barack Obama during his visit in China last week.

The newspaper editor-in-chief and one of its senior journalists conducted the interview and the 6 questions they asked are:

  • Favorite part about visiting China
  • Whether have spare time to play basketball
  • China-America cooperation in Asia-pacific region
  • Timetable to acknowledge China’s market economic status
  • US restrictions on high-tech export to China
  • Policy on not restraining China’s rise

Sensitive issues such as China’s human rights, freedom of speech, internet blockage, etc. were not raised, or at least, not published.

According to Xing Lieshan, one of the newspaper’s senior editors, the Publicity Department of the Communist Party of China was angry about the interview and instructed that no other media or websites should republish the interview.

One reason is that the department was not informed before the interview, the other reason is that the department was not happy about certain issues talked about in the interview.

Mr. Xing explained that interviews with visiting leaders were usually conducted by Xinhua News Agency or CCTV (China Central TV), the two most loyal mouthpieces of the Communist Party, but this time, Mr. Obama handpicked Southern Weekly, probably because of its reputation for speaking for the people and exposing government scandals.

He said the Publicity Dept. is an organization of the Party, and it’s inappropriate for the US side to raise interview request with them; instead, the US delivered request to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It was not the newspaper’s fault that the communication between the ministry and the department broke up.

As for those sensitive topics, the newspaper was left with no choice but cutting them out before publishing. Everything happened at such a short notice that they had to leave half of the paper in blank.

However, the newspaper is very clever. They put two lines  in the centre of the blank implying China’s censorship. It says:

No everyone can become a big shot, but all can understand China right here.

PS: This is a revised version of the last post. I tried to apply general writing rules and also online writing rules. Which one do you think is better?

Swine flu vaccine

November 12, 2009 2 comments

This is the first news clip I produced all by myself, from story selection to shooting (with the help of Jomanah, my teammate), from script writing to editing, and from voiceover to piece-to-camera.

The defects are obvious in the clip, but I still like it very much.

The most difficult part is to get interviews. I have never imagined that bringing people to talk in front of the camera could so hard, especially when you are just a student and asking for their time just to help you finish your TV assignment.  But after so much efforts, I really felt that this was also a fun part.

I used to edit a lot of news, like three to four pieces almost on a daily basis, but all the pictures were from finished products provided by AP or Reuters. Going out and filming helped me think about pictures from a totally different perspective, because this time, I was creating something instead of processing.

Here’s the script. Any comments are welcome.

Cue:

The first batch of swine flu vaccines will be delivered today. The NHS in Harrow will distribute them amid prediction that cases of the virus will soar next month.

Script:
Read more…

What are you afraid of?

November 5, 2009 Leave a comment

The biggest problem of working on my TV assignments was to get people agree to be interviewed, and on TV.

A councillor from HarrowCivic Center agreed to give me 15 minutes for an interview. When I arrived there, he saw the camera and said: “are you going to film this interview?”

I said “yes”. Then he became hesitated. He thought for a few seconds and said: “sorry, I can’t take video interview. You didn’t say it’s gonna be recorded.”

“It’s absolute my fault. I should have told you this.” I was stupid, and I admitted that.

No matter how I explained and requested, he just didn’t agree.

“If you just write down what I tell you, I can take the interview, but I really can’t do TV interviews,” he repeated.

If he was worried about not presenting himself well before the camera, i.e. not wearing suits, stuttering talking to camera, etc., I would be able to understand. But this man gave the impression that he was afraid of being recorded for what he was going to say. Maybe he though if anything happened, he could deny he had said anything, but if it was on TV, he would have to admit it.

He was indeed afraid of taking responsibilities. Interesting people.