Friday, November 11, 2005

Interview disasters

After Sikander posted a list of tips to have a great interview, Darcy and I couldn't help but think: did he have a bad experience lately?

There's no doubt about it; we all have our off days and sometimes we are just not ready (although we should be). I still can't always think of the perfect question to nail the person, get the perfect answer or be able to probe a little deeper.

Let's face it - I've had bad interviews. OK, maybe not disasters as I said in the title, but I just thought I'd share a few. Please let me know your worst moments as a reporter. We'll share a good laugh or two.

1. I was trying to get some wild sound for radio class on Halloween night. My story was about UNICEF and how kids really make a difference with their coins. Simple way to get kids sounds...Follow them while they trick-or-treat. I called our neighbour who has two kids and said yes. But she warned me: There would be about 12 kids between the ages of 5 and 12 at the same time - it could get busy.

No problem, I thought. Right. Try to interview kids about UNICEF coins when all they are doing is running from door to door. It took an hour to get them to say anything more than "Look, I got a Mars bar!" It was fun, I admit, but not the easiest way to interview kids!

2. I interviewed Bernard Landry (just before he quit the Parti Quebecois) last year when he came to McGill. Only McGill and Concordia's press was allowed into the Dean's office with Mr. Landry and his entourage. I learned to keep my questions nice and short.

Everyone was serious, and I ask, "Mr. Landry, you will be having your party convention this summer and some have questioned your leadership. How confident are you that you will remain the leader of the liberal party." Silence. Laughing all around...

I panic - what did I do? Mr. Landry candidly tells me: "Mademoiselle, you realize I am the leader of the PARTI QUEBECOIS, not the LIBERAL party."

Oh boy...That's it I thought - he won't answer, I will be banned from seeing him again...But he just laughed, I blushed and he answered my question.

Thank you Mr. Landry - my first terrible blunder and you took it so well!

3. I interviewed a Rwandan refugee living in our area. I was trying to get him to tell me about his escape from the Rwandan genocide with his family. I hadn't got too far, didn't have all I needed yet.

I asked him "Where are your parents now?" He answered, "My parents died on the side of the road while we tried to escape." I was shocked. Then, he just retreated and was guarded. He didn't tell me much after. I was disappointed. I didn't know how to turn it around. I mean I made him tell me about his dead parents, how could I ask more?

4. Or there was the time a interviewee was telling me what to write. He was a really nice man ( a bit older) and he would constantly ask me, did you write that down? Make sure you talk about this. It wasn't a terrible interview, but it was a little unnerving that someone tries to dictate what you will write about.

I wrote the article and he asked my editor to see it before it went to print. She saw no harm in it but I got a phone call that night - He asked me to come over because he has some changes to make to my article! (?!) He even wanted to change quotes. I listen to what he had to say - made a few changes that weren't major, but kept the quotes intact.

5. Then, there are political interviews. You gotta love 'em politicians with their platforms and secrets. One particular councilor, (Sikander you know who!) would always call me with "scoops", the next "big story" or "scandal". The problem was he would give me all this information but he always wanted to be off the record.

At first, I let it slide a bit, thinking maybe he could be useful to me. But after a few times when a half hour interview was 3/4 off the record, I said enough. I think he got the message that I don’t want to deal with someone who has all this misinformation and just wants to cause trouble.

I can't think of anymore at this point, but please, I'm curious, what are some of your horror / funny stories interviewing people? Don't be shy.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

haha those are pretty cringe worthy, I would have to say the worst interview I had was when I had to interview a travel agent, and she spent an hour trying to sell me wedding packages. So not helpful.

7:48 PM  
Blogger the1truecoolguy said...

Great stories!! Especially the one with Mr. Landry! Unfortunately I'm not a journalist, so no exciting stories to share! :(

1:50 AM  

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