Video interviews: Comparisons

The News Journal’s Web site, Delaware Online, has produced a package about an unusual topic: dwarfism and people who have that condition. Little People concerns the Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children, where study and treatment of dwarfism is a specialty.

Angela Grant has written a good critique of the package, and I was glad to read it because she answered a question I had about the numerous videos in the package: Why didn’t they hold my attention? The production quality is good, and the people speaking are not droning on and on (the way some public officials do). I kept wondering why I can watch three or four onBeing videos from beginning to end, but the videos in Little People made me impatient.

Angela says it’s because the people speaking are mostly giving us facts.

When we teach journalism students to report and write, what do we tell them about use of quotes from their sources? We tell them not to use a quote to deliver mere factual information. Quotes should be reserved for something unique, something with emotion, something with attitude or color.

Video and audio follow the same rules. At least, talking-head video does.

I was reminded of another example of talking-head video that I consider a very good use of video: The Dragon and the G-Man, from the Greensboro (N.C.) News & Record (analysis). Even though the videos in the package mainly show two old men just talking, while seated in their separate homes, I found them very compelling. They held my attention.

I admire what Delaware Online has accomplished in its Little People package, but I also think we can learn a lot about how to do the interviews if we compare these three very different examples of talking-head videos. After all, it’s the interviewer’s questions that lead the person in the video to speak about their feelings, their deeper personal reactions — or to recount events in a dry manner.

7 Comments on “Video interviews: Comparisons

  1. That’s a good point.

    It would be interesting to find out what types of questions the OnBeing producer asks during interviews.

  2. I think Jenn Crandall is a brilliant interviewer. I think she really understands how to LISTEN — the real key to doing a great interview!

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  4. I think thats a really valid point that you guys have picked out.

    I would second that idea of listening and would add that it’s also about the interviewer being curious. Often a simple “how did that make you feel” before the “tell me what happened next” can make all the difference.

    I think another issue that may be contributing to some of this is the ‘ethical’ debate around scripted packages and packages ‘narrated’ by the protagonists.

    When you have to really solely on the interviewee to tell the story I think you are bound to get the equivalent of the ‘procedural’ interview where the reporter feels the pressure to get the linear narrative straight so that the story progresses. In the heat of it the emotion can be lost.

    I find that one way round that is to do more than one interview. Get them to go through their story. Listen to what they say. Think about the story they have just told you and how you might film that not how that interview fits in the story you want to tell.

    Then interview them again about the story they just told you not the story you want to tell.

    Don’t be afraid to question, challenge and even express an emotional response to the story.

  5. Some people have suggested that you should do the complete interview the way you would for print — with your pen and notepad in hand — and only afterward, turn on the camera. Only then will you know the right questions to ask for the video.

    I have learned to love narration.

    I had heard so many bad narrations, I was against the whole idea. Then I finally started to hear some good ones, well written AND well voiced. That won me over.

  6. Thats a great idea.

    Part of me thinks you could still tape the interview and get more footage to play with (always thinking about the edit 🙁 ). But a pen and paper is a lot less daunting than a camera and you would no doubt get more out of a straight conversation.

    You’d listen more as well.

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