Video journalism/The Camera's Eye
The Digital High Definition Camera continues a self operator tradition, which began with the sole operated wind up 16 millimeter film cameras of the 1960s. Much of this tradition began with war cinematographers documenting campaigns like the Kokoda Trail, providing images that changed mass opinion.
Sole operators work with lower budgets and can spend longer, being embedded in the one place: preparing, filming researching and gathering background material. In situations like trouble torn Irian Jaya (West Papua), this can be done more efficiently and less obtrusivley with one traveller with a small camera and their note book, as one might do as a tourist.
The downside of this however, is that sole operators are more vulnerable to the pressures that go with travel and being alone in a foreign country. These pressures may influence judgement and perspective, which inevitably runs through to the final work.
Writing with pictures for newsworthiness[edit | edit source]
Use this section with Assignment One. Consider how the following material might relate to the production of the final news script assignment.
In competition with new emerging online news agencies, mainstream television news broadcasters are being forced to acknowledge audiences in the communication process. Within this, accountability and ethical practice are becoming increasingly important as audience lobby groups put pressure on broadcasters to watch their standards.
This is clearly demonstrated in a news video uploaded by Russia Today on Dec 8, 2011. the clip showed that news bulletins around the world in following Russia's election rallies, had the potential to source footage from America's Fox News. The video material showed streets ablaze, violent clashes and firebombs being thrown at security officers, but as Russia Today demonstrated, the material had one major problem - the images were not from Russia, they were from Greece!
Like documentary and current affairs, TV news is a powerful communication form which packs in meaning and information through codes and signs that are borrowed from many forms. It can be shown that these may include the theatre, fiction film, ethnographic film, camera and editing conventions and documentary film itself. For years, communications theoreticians have shown through shot by shot analysis, that the image from moving film (the camera’s gaze) contains universal signs that appeal to and are understood by audiences across cultures. Many of these codes and conventions have grown out of documentary film as the first form in the history of the moving image.
Across all forms there is a sense of the camera is an instrument that captures actual sequences in a way that is somehow realistic. There are however, local and regional differences in the way audiences interpret, the way they make readings, meanings and reactions to film based information. You might read the work by Eric Michaels on the Australian Western Desert Aborigines’ (Walpiri) and their re-reading Hollywood iconography. This account relates to how the Walpiri interpret TV programs like the US-Texas based soap opera (social realism) entitled Dallas. The Walpiri read the text in ways that render the lifestyle and characters as absurd and laughable. To own a swimming pool, in the Walpiri view, is to make worry and work, essentially being trapped in materialism.
The English Language Lead-dominated Video News Story[edit | edit source]
The Lead-dominated news story is a predominant form across a number of story-telling genres available in the English-language culture. The News Story has its own distinct generic structure and this separates it from other types of story telling such as the ‘narrative’ in such forms as poems, ballads and novels.
Alternatives to the Lead-dominated News Story exist, particularly in other journalistic traditions, such as in the French news story tradition. The structure of the Lead-dominated News Story acts to focus and then background the story, which tends to naturalise the cultural and ideological perspective on which the story depends. This naturalising purports that the camera and resultant edited piece, both serve as witness to reflect reality ‘as it happened’.
Therefore, video news and current affairs stories (and documentaries for that matter) don’t simply reflect reality. Rather; their angle, their lead (intro), picture and soundtrack choices, their form and structure, are all culturally and ideologically determined.
News reports are of events and issues which happened at different times and places, yet, in the process of encoding the text reporters draw from an established set of modes and codes to structure their story. This tends to place spin or perspective on those events and issues.
Each news text is instantly recognisable as part of an established news code, if it wasn’t it could not be screened, because it would not fit the style of the news bulletin. Take, for example, a news story that was shot by someone completely locked into filming rock video clips. The camera style simply would not work in a news context, where raw material must have stable camera, an independent gaze using conventions suitable for news.
The shots chosen from the options of possible camera angles conform to the conventions of shooting the intended program. The journalist decides on whether or not to include ambient sound of the location or music or some other disembodied audio text. All these elements give this text a recognisable look and feel. It is defined by its codes. The assembly of video text, which began in reporting and completed in the editing, follows established conventions.
In the print (newspaper) context, the reporter will encode the message using written rather than spoken words. A headline will signpost the nature of the story and grab the reader’s attention. There may be a photograph of the car accident, but the signs encoded into the visual text for television, will need to be conveyed primarily in pictures and supported by voice – a spoken text or voice over, a piece to camera, atmosphere sound and graphics. In print, the individual news story will appear in the context of a page in the newspaper, rather than the sequential, episodic order of television news pictures and sound.
The visual codes for reporting traffic accidents on radio news are different again, relying on a brief text of spoken words (brevity) placed in a sequence of news items (the bulletin). The news reader will add meaning by the codes of radio-language to provide authority, urgency, and seriousness.
In each medium the reporter is essentially telling the same story, using the same facts. Each story has a beginning, a middle and an end. Each unfolds over the time it takes to view or read or listen, and there’s an understanding on the part of the receiver that someone professional is telling the story. Each text is a narrative, a story.
In the systematic arrangement of news texts for each medium, a hierarchy of facts is made, in which items of greater news worthiness are placed higher in the story. This sequencing and prioritising goes on in news bulletins and within the stories themselves.
This encoding process, among many aims, is to avoid a sequencing where items are juxtaposed in offensive or inappropriate ways, or where the text simply does not make sense. This is because the meaning of the combined texts is greater than the sum of their individual meanings; their meaning is affected by the texts which surround them and, ultimately, by all other texts in the news bulletin.
Thus, mainstream ‘news worthiness’ is related to a preconception, or model of social order. Events and issues are ‘newsworthy’ according to the degree they represent a disturbance, a deviation or rearrangement from social, political or moral status quo.
In the first assignment, you should consider this topic and ‘news worthiness’ in terms of your own story angle, your construction process and possible audience readings.
Finding the lead (intro) in a story[edit | edit source]
News worthiness relates to ‘social order destabilisation’. Social equilibrium can be disturbed in different ways and so events and issues can acquire ‘news value’ by way of the degree of disturbance or change inherent in the event. There are tree primary modes of disruption, and therefore drama, which are beginning points for finding lead and angle.
Damage: Actual or threatened damage or disruption to the physical or economic well-being of society. Positive stories also relate to these criteria and so speak about improvements to social material well-being, thus making them ‘newsworthy’ - stories about falls in unemployment, the economy recovering, the discovery of new cures etc.)
Moral Breach: Events, or activity, which goes against society’s beliefs about legal, illegal, right and wrong, good and bad, normal and abnormal, acceptable or unacceptable. Similarly, stories about people who act ‘correctly’, who illustrate upstanding moral behaviour are also ‘newsworthy’. Stories about heroic rescue, stories on people who battle against adversity are also suitably categorised.
Transformation: Significant changes to the political and social status quo, to the way society operates, to the way social order is organised and is regulated.
The ‘Damage’ category is self-evident. It covers any event involving catastrophe: economic meltdown, environmental degradation, war, riots resulting in death or destruction, or any degradation of our physical, psychological or economic well being. Obvious ‘Damage’ stories include reports of biker gang turf wars, war, storms, earthquakes, fires, droughts, traffic accidents, ferry disasters, rises in unemployment, financial crises, murders, bank hold-ups, disease and ecological degradation.
‘Moral Breach’ stories cover events or issues where some action or state of affairs is corrupted, illegal, immoral, shameful, abnormal, incompetent, unacceptable, dishonest etc. These ‘Moral Breach’ stories can overlap into 'damage' stories and may include reports on crime, political corruption, acts of discrimination or prejudice, sexual harassment, breaches of regulations, bureaucratic bungles, incompetent, careless or uncaring acts by government or big business and so on.
‘Transformation’ stories entail some significant change or reorganisation of political or power relationships, institutional re-alignments, social roles and relationships or changes in modes of behaviour by the ruling elite. ‘Transformation’ stories can be broken into a further three subcategories:
Changes to power relationships in state ideological apparatus, in politics and prominent institutions and organisations, change after elections or leadership challenges, sackings, rebellions, military coups, appointments, company take-overs, new alliances.
Social trend stories: changes in social roles, relationships, beliefs, changing social mores.
Institutional change stories: law reform, new government programs/policies, introduction of new school subjects/teaching methods, formation of new lobby groups or big banks supporting presidential candidates.
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Video news items are more or less newsworthy, the degree to which they have currency, depend the extent that they:
– alarm the viewers, or in the case of positive stories, reassure the viewers;
– outrage or evoke pity or praise; and
– intrigue, interest or entertain the viewers.
When researching your news topic / story use this check-list of factors associated with relative news value.
1. Severity/Significance 2. Extent 3. Immediacy/Proximity 4. Currency – how recent is the event 5. Novelty/Strangeness 6 Clear-cut news ‘trigger’ 7. Concrete human focus 8. Celebrity Status 9. Hot Topics – the presence of currently newsworthy themes.
News worthiness is really related to must run or not run measures, that is the ‘Fit’ and the ‘Unfit’ stories. You should also consider this model for the choice of components in the current affairs or documentary story-telling angles. The difference to news writing is that the ‘in-depthness’ of current affairs or documentary will involve higher levels of subjectivity, filmmaking, art, drama, interpretation and human aspects than news will usually involve.
One of the more notable features of the mass media is its uniformity. News bulletins, news pages and current affairs around the world reveal a remarkable degree of overlap in both content and emphasis. In Australia, for example, it is not uncommon for The ABC TV, Nine National News and The SBS World News to have some of their stories in common and a similar uniformity operates in the selections and running orders of the nightly television news broadcasts.
This uniformity is not limited to the media outlets of one city or one country. In a big story, the visual language and the ideology inherent in camera and editing style of one video crew may be on-sold many times to other networks throughout the world.
Surveys of the news selections of individual journalists reveal a similar consistency of choice. This reflects news room culture and the world-wide across language codes of video news making, which is made uniform through training, mentoring and working within networks. This means the members of a given network are likely to similarly rank a set of potential news items. This phenomenon has been shown as consistent throughout the world, where news lists produced by journalists at the same time / dateline from different networks proved to be remarkably similar.
This insistence to naturalness and objectivityis maintained in TV organizations from China to the USA. It operates across media organizations and across cultures. Having an understanding of these patterns of selection, or at least being able to reproduce them, is crucial for the practicing journalist. It enables reporters to predict their editors’/producers’ news judgments and so the knowledge guides their efforts to develop their own story ideas. It also empowers video journalists to recognise what stories, from news to documentary will have agreed upon currency with producers and funders. Rounds reporters, in particular, need to know in advance how various issues and events will ‘get traction’ with their editorial superiors.
Editors and producers, of course, call upon their sense of the ‘newsworthy’ as they filter each day’s thousands of potential news items. But it’s not only within news selection that a sense of the ‘newsworthy’ comes into play. It is also crucial to the news writing process itself, determining how information within the news story is organised and what information is assigned to the Lead and Angle.
However a closer analysis reveals some important differences in the news selections of different media organisation and different journalistic traditions, despite the consistency of video news insistence of naturalness and objectivity, in its selection and use of camera and editing. You might try to find these subtle differences by viewing online news video from Fox and then comparing similar stories with Russia Today.
Explaining and acquiring news sense and story telling sequencing[edit | edit source]
Practicing journalists, therefore, need to be able to demonstrate a sense of the ‘newsworthy’. They need to be able to make news and sequencing judgements which maintain the consistencies identified above and which are therefore regarded as ‘sound’ by their colleagues, superiors and audiences.
How then is this ‘news sense’ and ‘story telling sense’ to be acquired? The mainstream journalistic tradition supplies a few pointers, where most learning takes place on the job in a trial by fire process. The more fortunate junior journalist will experience some mentoring while on the job at the network. But this is not particularly helpful for those seeking to develop freelance journalistic skills outside of an on-the-job training process.
This Wikiversity learning schedule is designed to replace the on-the-job training process, the effectiveness of this schedule will be determined largely by your practice that should be repeated and reflected upon as regularly as possible, as if it were in fact an on-the-job training process.
We have established by now that there is the view in mainstream video news that ‘news value’ is possessed inherently, naturally and ‘objectively’ by some issues/events and not by others. The celebrated motto of the New York Times, ‘All the News that’s Fit to Print’ reflects this perspective. It’s an attitude which also underlies the stock journalistic assertion that good reporters must ‘have a nose for news’ or ‘a gut feeling for news’.
A video journalist is assumed to have this intuitive sense so they are trained to see the good pictures and to know how to put them together in a news focussed, film-making and telling way. These traditions are based on the language that we all aquire by watching television news and even cinema. This language has been developing for almost a century; from photography, through the early years of silent film to the sophisticated multi-genre screen languages of today. The TV journalist uses this language when constructing stories. Assumptions are made about audience sophistication, or lack of sophistication; choices and selections are made in the wanderings of the camera, in the framing, shooting and editing of those stories.
So ‘News sense’, story telling and ‘picture sense’ is simply the ability to perceive what is this ‘objective’ value, as if the process were akin to sight and hearing. Journalists sometimes talk as if this ‘news sense’ were an ability possessed naturally by some and not by others, with the implication that it can’t be taught, or even learnt through a Wikiversity schedule such as this.
Artists say the same about their niche as do writers, feature filmmakers and actors. The formulation implies that you either have a ‘feeling’ for news, story telling, filming, soundtrack construction or you don’t. Another view of ‘news sense’, widespread among journalists, is somewhat more promising. It holds that; it is the interests and concerns of the audience that determines the journalist’s selections and emphases.
This formulation has the virtue of not construing ‘news worthiness’ as innate and objective, locating it instead in the subjective domain of the public’s preferences and interests. However if the viewers, or audience determines what should run, then audiences may be vulnerable to receiving only news the perceived majority wants to hear, rather than receiving what they should hear in the public interest. This processing, or gate-keeping, may simply amount to propaganda, spin and public relations on behalf of government and big bussiness.
Apply this critique to using pictures and sound as you begin to develop a formula for your first assignment and to your general video journalism news sense. Watch online video news and make intelligent observations about the comparisons, the trends, faults and methods of that material in terms of the audience community of interest. Hopefully, you will begin to quickly develop this ‘sense’, this ‘intuitive power’.
This process is, however, beset by a couple of serious problems. The mass media audience is extremely diverse, made up of people with all manner of interests, agendas and concerns. If we are equating ‘news value’ with audience interest, then are we saying that we choose only those stories and angles that will somehow encompass this diversity? Or are we saying that to be rated as ‘newsworthy’, an item needs only to match the interests of some subset of that diverse audience? If so, then how large or influential does that sub-section or sample need to be? Will the interests of one group cancel out those of another? Clearly this is what is going on in any big arena of mass media coverage of US presidential campaigns, political struggles and military coups in small countries like Papua New Guinea.
Perhaps more seriously, this formulation ignores one of the key features of the journalistic enterprise. Journalists really have only the most incidental and partial contact with the audience whose interests they are supposed to reflect. Journalists are middle class, educated and hold conservative views of the networks that pay them. While the journalistic process requires that they interact closely with their colleagues and with a relatively small number of sources and public relations people, it does not involve any systematic interaction with either the public in general or specific target audiences. Although some media outlets conduct surveys, these are rarely targeted at the specifics of news selection and tend, rather the surveys are to help determine ratings and assist in attracting advertising. Any socially relevant surveys are likely to be largely ignored by management and further, network management is clearly in denial over the rise of alternative online video news services. The reality is that the few direct responses journalists receive to their work through the occasional outraged phone call from aggrieved viewers can in no way be seen as providing insights into general community attitudes.
The most convincing explanation of ‘news sense’ offered by journalists themselves is through a system of values journalists acquire, through the constant process of example and emulation, to which working journalists are exposed on a daily basis. Journalists learn what is ‘newsworthy’ by observing the actual news choices of the media organisation for which they work and then learning to reproduce these so they obtain positive feedback. They learn to relate new story possibilities to past choices, to identify what themes, sources, issues or personalities they have in common with reports previously broadcast and thereby establish ‘news value’ through comparison.
This, of course, is not of great help to those of you who are making video stories and are selecting not only the angle, lead, the pictures, the sequencing and sound track but in process do not have a mentor or producer on hand to inculcate them with some TV news or current affairs conventions of TV journalism filmmaking. The Chief of Staff Reviewer (COS) in this process, in script editing your work, is designed to be a step toward simulating this on the job process.
Additionally, something of a substitute can be supplied by the close, extended analysis of the broadcasts of particular media organisations and this is certainly recommended for those seeking to develop an understanding of mainstream ‘news worthiness’ and picture story telling agendas. But this approach has its limitations as an educational tool. Most tellingly, it provides only a one-sided perspective, revealing only those stories that were eventually chosen, and giving no insight into the behind-the-scenes processes of story and shot selection or the way that some items only attain ‘news value’ after a thorough reworking, a dramatisation or reconstruction and inclusion of file footage that has been placed out of context. Similarly, it provides no information on which stories or pictures, shots and sequences were rejected and the reasons for these rejections.
Therefore, in researching and writing your news script assignment, you should approach the task of news and story/picture selection systematically and with reference to general principles. These principles are already culturally with us as we have watched television news and current affairs, cinema, documentary for most of our lives. We simply have to be openly aware of what meanings are associated with different pictures, their juxtapositions and so on. In writing your script, firstly, establish news value, then construct the story that best conveys and holds those news or current values (time relevant). Then start on finding a pictorial representation for your words – the story script. Generally the rule of show and tell applies. That is, place the picture first so that it tells a story and then reinforce the meaning by voicing and explaining, or linking shots. For authenticity, use your subject’s (interviewee’s) voice to tell what the pictures are showing.
[edit | edit source]
We have established in the previous sections that the mainstream media’s news selections are related to a model of social order or stability. An event or issue’s ‘news value’ comes from the core social purpose of mainstream news coverage – the identification of actual or threatened disruption of the status quo, of the material, social, political and moral order, as construed by those gatekeepers who exercise power within the mass media.
TV ‘news worthiness’ is a measure of the degree that the issue or event under consideration involves an actual or threatened disturbance of the social order. The greater the disturbance is deemed to be, the greater the ‘news value’.
Within this is the selection of pictures for video news. In video scripting, think of the following criteria while applying the news worthiness tests. If you cannot find the pictures to tell the story, then it might be better to drop the particular idea for the story. While it may have news worthiness for print story, without the pictures it may completely fail a set of overriding ‘picture-worthiness’ criteria.
– What pictures best open the story? – What pictures best tell the story? – What pictures best show the drama? – What pictures best illustrate the tensions? – What pictures best resolve and conclude? – What sound-track best compliments the above? – What pace, rhythm and grammar in the editing will best tell the story and create tension with seamlessness and apparent veracity?
The structure of your video news script might be best laid out in the following way:[edit | edit source]
Relate the following structure to the video news script template available in Resources.
First Stage Orientation: the opening pictures and sound combined with the news reader's lead (intro) should set the scene. It should introduce the principle characters and place them in context. Second Stage Complicating Action: introduces the argument, the problem, the principle points and emphasises, or reinforces, the lead. It should explain the challenge, the danger, the change or disruption which threatens the lives, safety or happiness of the characters presented in the Orientation – some action which disrupts the social order. Third Stage Resolution: the steps taken by the primary protagonist(s), the hero/s, to resist the threat or resolve the problem presented in the ‘Complicating Action’. This might also include balance where there are two contradictory characters offering resolution, as the case in politics. The hero/s restore social equilibrium, so removing the source of social disruption and danger. Final Stage The Coda: in conclusion the Coda wraps up the action, it indicates that the Resolution, in terms of story telling, has in fact been successful, that the ‘Complicating Action’ has been finally overcome and now everything is back to ‘normal’ in the story's structure.
The News Story Lead may be a combining of the Orientation and the Complicating Action – and sometimes the Resolution as well – into one single stage, since the Lead presents all the primary participants of the story. The Lead identifies the primary point of social disturbance, as well as describing any resolution of this disturbance. Documentary and current affairs stories have longer duration and so will often more suitably fit these structural groupings.
The News Story is but one of the ways of telling a story, as made available by our culture. Each story telling choice carries with it consequences as to meaning and rhetorical affect.
A brief guide to good interviewing techniques[edit | edit source]
See reference by Boyd, A. 1994. Broadcast Journalism, Techniques of Radio and TV News. Focal Press – imprint of Heinemann-Butterworth, Oxford. See also more recent editions.
The News Story and Documentary rely on a documentation or quoting of the actuality gathered around an event. The camera poses as ‘impartial observer’ and recorder of accounts, interviews and events. To make this actuality work in a filmic sense, a theatrical or dramatic sense, one has to achieve a sense of ‘naturalness’, and authority in the recordings. This strengthens believability and is managed by adhering to certain conventions and rules. [See Internet reference to recording good sound, microphones, camera framing the interview, avoiding at all costs the camera crossing the line and other conventions]
Interviews have been described as conversations, polite interrogation, an exchange of ideas, extractions – and confrontations. When you select your usable and story telling ‘grabs’ from the interview material (the rushes) you will need to keep the following in mind.
The News Story, Current Affairs piece and Documentary film rely on a documentation or quoting of the actuality gathered around an event. The camera poses as ‘impartial observer’ and recorder of accounts, documents, visible evidence, interviews and events. To make this actuality work in a filmic sense, a theatrical or dramatic sense, one has to achieve a sense of ‘naturalness’, and authority in the recordings. This must be done in terms of the codes and conventions of the camera, and when it is done well, it strengthens believability.
Different types of interviews fulfil different objectives. Always keep in mind the purpose or purposes of the interview. The following lists three major types of interview:
1. relatively brief interviews designed to gather information and/or ‘grabs’ for use in a news report (especially important to eliminate endless logging and options in editing. In video you ask the question that you know will give you the answer, and so the grab, that you need to complete the story. However, you do need to get a range of responses, or options, so that the best grab may be chosen in the editing process. 2. longer interviews that are conducted as part of research/preparation for a current affairs or documentary piece, some of which may simply be note taking for a rough cut, that will be re-filmed at a later date; and 3. long and self contained interviews designed to be broadcast as an independent item in their own right.
The third type is the most demanding. Here, the interview involves interplay between the journalist and their interview subject, and this is just as important as the information conveyed. Although some editing of this type of interview is usual, the success of what you finally broadcast will depend on how well you managed the conversation. In the editing process, evaluating the material, one should ask: did the interview elicit precise, relevant and interesting responses from the ‘talent’? Did the interview maintain a good rhythm and pace to the journalist's questions? Were the questions succinct and to the point? Did the journalist respond to what the ‘talent’ was saying? Did the journalist question any inconsistencies or obvious bias in what the ‘talent’ was saying. Did the journalist successfully extract all the relevant issues? Was the interview coherent? Were there too many asides, ums and ahs muttered by the interviewee?
Different modes of interview[edit | edit source]
In the first two types of interview (above), the focus is on information, on the ‘talent’s’ claims, predictions, criticisms, explanations etc, rather than on the interplay with the journalist. Often the questions will be edited out in the final broadcast item, especially the case in news items. In news, your concern is with the useability of the grabs you get from the ‘talent’. For news reports you want short and to-the-point responses to your questions. The responses must be free of any need to clarify or justify.
Grabs in a current affairs piece can be longer and more analytical but you still need to work to ensure that the responses can be understood by viewers and that they sum up the position on the issue under discussion. You need to be constantly monitoring the responses with the final produced item in mind. You may need to rephrase a question to ensure that you get the right grab.
When conducting an interview you need to always keep in mind the length of the material you will finally produce. Are you aiming for 30 seconds of material, for a few minutes or for something much longer?
The interviewing video journalist has to monitor the recording while simultaneously keeping the interview on track. Video journalists should always wear headphones in interviews, monitoring sound and listening out for any noise like electrical interference or weakened batteries in the microphone. The framing of the interviewee must also be monitored so that their nose is essentially in the middle of the frame. Ensure they are sitting in a straight position, not sagging in the seat, or their coat is not hunched up over their shoulders that gives the impression of Count Dracula.
Here are some categories of interview:
Drawing out in a standard interview: where the subject has something to tell, they are only too willing and are an expert/authority/community leader/interested party etc who has something useful/ interesting /controversial/informative to say. Here the interviewer’s task is to facilitate the interview, shoot the video, record good sound and so allow the subject to present their story, their knowledge or point of view. The interview should be constructed so the interviewee’s answers are to the point, that they address the primary issues, the responses are organised into usable grabs and don’t include too many digressions, stumbles or repetitions.
Confrontation: where the interviewee, who may be a reluctant subject, is implicated in some controversy, crisis or scandal. Here the interviewer will usually need to put some challenging or difficult questions to the interviewee. A strategy might be to say that here is an opportunity to set the record straight, so the interviewer acts as a devil’s advocate, challenging the interview subject to respond to criticisms or refute accusations. The reporter must not, however, actually engage in direct debate with the subject, nor must they directly accuse or criticise. Questions must be phrased in such a way that the interviewer acts to present other people’s criticisms. Thus the questions will be framed along the lines of , ‘Members of your own party say that you have lost touch with ordinary citizens. How do you respond to those claims?’ Another line of questioning might be in the public interest: ‘Isn’t there a danger that such a decision will be seen as insensitive’. Please try to ignore the example of the stars of tabloid television current affairs. They act more as commentators, as actors and as public figures in their own right, rather than as impartial interviewers.
Conversation: this category of interview is most often only appropriate for background material, for human interest or colour interviews. Here the purpose is to present the interview subject as a human being, a personality or an interesting character. The interviewer wants to put the subject at ease, to make them feel relaxed and on the same side, with the same purpose. The interviewee should feel relaxed enough to reveal their innermost feelings, so an informal, conversational style is adopted.
Preparation for the interview[edit | edit source]
Good interviewees are called ‘talent’, as the actors would be in fictional forms of film. Although your choices as to who you interview will often be limited, it is useful to identify those people who speak well on camera, who don't lose their nerve, and to call on their expertise when appropriate. Don’t however let the concern for ‘good talent’ lead you to use the 'usual suspects while excluding those who might be better with a right to be heard. It is important to give a voice to all sections of society and this may mean giving access to those who do not always speak fluently or who speak with non-standard accents. Try to develop contacts from all sides of the issues which are of concern to your audience so that you can quickly find ‘talent’ to represent the different sides of a debate.
Logic Tree: when the interview is likely to be confrontational and investigative, you will need to ask the easy and acceptable questions first, to relax the interviewee and build background to the topic. As you move through the interview there may be options or directions that will be unexpected, you should prepare for all pathways that the interview may take. These sorts of interview questions can be drawn up, or scripted, as a Logic Tree in advance, so that you have the alternative question ready when the response takes a certain pathway. This way you will be recorded in a confident mode and will prevail over the allusiveness of an interviewee trying to hide certain disclosures.
It is always a good idea to rehearse the questions, as actors would. This is especially important if your questions are going to be recorded and are likely to be included in the finished piece.
Although no two interviews are the same, in preparing for your interviews it is useful to refer to the following checklist which is often summed up as the ‘PACE’ formula.
Prepare your interview thoroughly, checking facts and accusations. Approach: consider what approach you are going to take, does the 'Logic tree' apply. Conduct: always take care to control the flow of the interview. Expression: take care with your expression, use words that bring clarity, take care how you frame your questions.
Clearly identify the context you intend for the interview – news report, current affairs piece, extended interview, or a combination that may serve a documentary film. How long will the interview take, and so, what depth should the questions aim for?
Check all background information, search the Internet, speak to people with background knowledge, check the Internet for any recent relevant stories, talk to other journalists. come up with single idea on the topic to be discussed.
Decide on the line or lines of questioning you will pursue. Identify the issues that are key and those that are likely to be peripheral. Plan possible angles for the story and make sure you conduct the interview with these in mind. Prepare specific questions designed to elicit responses directly related to these potential angles.
Compose a list of questions and decide on the best ordering (but always be prepared to improvise if the interview takes an unexpected direction). Keep in mind the idea of a Logic Tree line of questioning (see above) if relevant.
Eliminate ‘empty’ questions that don’t elicit concrete, to-the-point responses. Avoid too many ‘closed’ questions – that is, questions that elicit ‘yes/no’ answers.
In conducting the interview[edit | edit source]
Put your talent at ease. If you have the time and access, offer them some tea, a coffee or a glass of water. If they are nervous, spend a few minutes reassuring them of your general line of questioning, telling them how long you expect to take and what you hope to achieve.
As a sole camera operator, you will have to record different establishing shots, showing you both together: shots of the location where the interview is occurring, the building, the garden and you will have to make sure you record wide shots and reversals of the interview in this early stage. If they are too nervous, you might have to leave this work until the interview is completed, as their nervousness may increase as the camera is rolling and as you are focussed on filming rather than reassuring them and getting on with the interview. There is also the difficult decision of when and if you will ask the interviewee to sign a release form. When you come to editing the material and developing the story into documentary, you may be very glad you obtained a release form and managed to obtain a range of establishing shots, despite the risks involved in distancing the interviewee.
Reassure the interviewee and try to get them to forget about the microphone and camera by engaging them in conversation. Use your eyes to keep them interested in conversation – even remind them this is just a conversation. Don’t rehearse them by taking them through the questions beforehand as this will take the desired freshness from the interview.
If the interviewee tries to read from a document, try to persuade them otherwise by saying it will sound unnatural. If they insist, check how long it is – saying it should be no more than 30 seconds in length. You might even let them do this once, then ask them to try to answer the question without reading.
Before you begin the interview, start the camera tape running and include a short identification (ID) on the tape. Say something like, ‘Interview by (your name) with Nick Cave, March 12, 2012.
Make sure that your subject knows when you begin the camera recording and when you’re in pause. Inform them as much as you can about the nature of the story – informed consent.
Try to make your questions provocative so that the responses will make your viewers take notice. Keep your questions in front of you and be ready to make notes, but also be prepared to abandon them, especially if the interviewee needs reengaging. Listen carefully to each answer in search of clues to undiscovered angles or issues. Take notes on this. Never hesitate to rephrase a question in order to clarify what has been said, for instance: ‘What do you mean when you allude to the idea that climate scientists lied and rigged data’?’ or ‘How much money did the prince offer you?’.
Try to resist attempts by the subject to say things that they want ‘off the record’. Remind the interviewee that the interview is being taped and that you only want ‘on the record’ statements.
Ensure, wherever possible, that there is a distinct pause before each new question. This will greatly assist the editing process. If you stumble over a question or realise that your question is poorly spoken, repetitive or constructed to cause confusion, then stop, leave a slight pause and then start the question over again; saying 'take two'.
If the interviewee makes an obvious slip, ask them to repeat their answer. Questions and answers must be as clear and free-standing as possible.
Avoid the reassurances of normal conversation that most people offer as verbal cues: 'ah harh', ‘yep’, ‘right’, ‘umm’ ‘I see’ etc. In normal conversation these cues indicate one is engaged and listening, responding to the other person’s comments. You must avoid this in video recordings, carefully monitor your voice to ensure that you resist the temptation to make these verbal cues in the course of an interview. Replace the verbal cues by eye contact, nodding you head, or smiling or other visual (but silent) cues to indicate you are listening and appreciating what is being said by the interview subject.
At the conclusion of the interview record 30 seconds of ‘atmos’, background sounds, that are present at the place of the interview. In some cases, you may think you are recording silence, but all locations, no matter how quiet, include some background sounds like bird noises, cricket bat on ball, traffic rumble. This is especially important if the location is knowingly noisy, like heavy machinery at a factory site. This background ‘silence’, or noise, may prove very useful later on in the editing process.
Sometimes you may encounter people who seek to control the interview by only answering the questions that suit them. Once the subject has freely agreed to the interview, you have every right to pursue all legitimate questions. Calmly, politely, persistently, ask the same question in different ways until they respond.
With difficult subjects you might look or sound affronted, calmly stating that they are not addressing the question. Then return them to the point of the interview and, if all else fails, terminate the interview. Before taking such drastic action, do your best to ensure that it is the interviewee and not you that is the problem. Ensure that you have been as polite and flexible as possible and that your questioning is reasonable. (See Boyd, Chapter 7 for an example of where the problem lay with the interviewer and not the interviewee).
Some people refuse to stop talking, or give very long-winded responses, to deal with them you may need to look bored (especially if you have two cameras rolling, one on you, one on them). You might interrupt, reminding them that time is limited, or reminding them that you only have time for a brief statement (if the item is for news).
Do your best though, to avoid such interruptions unless they are the only method to save the interview. These interruptions will make later editing more difficult since your voice will be intertwined with the interviewee’s answers.
Remember, when conducting face-to-face interviews, maintain eye contact with the subject as long as this is culturally appropriate. This often helps interviewees forget the camera and focus on the issue being discussed. Smile, nod approvingly, lean forward and make encouraging but silent gestures to reduce their nervousness. If you feel some questions are still worth asking, put it to the interviewee that if they have anything further to say, they would be most welcome to do so. Then, thank the interview subject for their time, saying you may interview them again on another occasion.