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Archive for the ‘Interviewing’ Category

Some people will talk for the record about private matters if you get a chance to earn their trust.

That was the big lesson for me from one of the most memorable stories of my career, telling the personal stories, on the record, of six women who experienced troubled pregnancies and their decisions of whether to have an abortion or give birth.

If I were doing this story today, I would certainly add crowdsourcing to the techniques I used to find women who would be sources for this story. Finding sources was the biggest challenge in doing the story and was, of course, the key to the story.

It would have been difficult, if not impossible, to do this story by itself. I had developed good relationships with people on both sides of the issue and they played intermediary by hooking me up with potential sources (and by vouching for me to those sources).

Of course, physicians and counselors who connected me with sources wouldn’t and shouldn’t (even before tougher federal health-privacy laws) give me names and phone numbers of patients or clients. They gave my name and phone number to women they thought might talk to me (or perhaps to women whose stories they thought would portray their own views sympathetically). I have no idea how many women got my name and phone number but never called, but eventually, I connected with enough women. (more…)

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I used to start workshops by telling reporters the most important thing they could get from an interview was the “Walmart sack.” I carried a blue plastic Walmart sack loaded with my workshop handouts and dropped the sack with a thump onto a table, hoping to intrigue the reporters and grab their attention.

Finding a character’s Walmart sack should be the point of an interview, I said. You needed to learn what the character’s Walmart sack was and you needed to get the character to entrust the sack to you.

The Walmart sack was a metaphor in my workshops, but it was a real sack when I interviewed Vanessa Forsberg in 1995. I had a riveting, powerful interview with Vanessa, but the Walmart sack held papers that could tell part of her story even better than she could. (more…)

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Video helped tell the story of the 1971 Farragut state championship, but I couldn't use the video in this 1996 story.

Video helped tell the story of the 1971 Farragut state championship, but I couldn’t use the video in this 1996 story.

Sometimes I ponder how I might do the memorable stories of my career differently today, using digital tools.

Today I’m starting an occasional series of blog posts that will revisit some of those stories, sharing that musing as well as discussing some other journalism lessons and techniques that those stories illustrate.

I’ll start with an easy example. This story involved a video, but I wrote it in 1996, before news sites could post video. In those dial-up days, no one had the bandwidth to show or watch video online.

This is a story I’ve cited before in my blog (and I mentioned it in the chapter I wrote for the Verification Handbook that will be published soon by the European Journalism Centre). It was a story (a four-part series, actually, for the Omaha World-Herald), looking back 25 years at the Iowa state championship of the Farragut High School girls basketball team. (more…)

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This is the handout for my workshop on personal interviews. I used to do this workshop quite often, but haven’t done it for a couple years. The handout was originally posted at No Train, No Gain. I am posting some of my NTNG handouts here, with some updating, because NTNG is no longer online.

Narrative writing grows from narrative reporting. The foundation of any narrative is the writer’s authoritative knowledge of what happened. Some of the most powerful narrative stories require special care in finding sources and arranging and conducting interviews. Narrative is a powerful way to tell stories in writing as well as in multimedia and especially in packages that use both effectively.

Some of the best narrative stories come from deeply personal stories that often are difficult to tell. Many people are especially reluctant to tell the compelling stories of such intimate or traumatic personal matters as rape, abortion, domestic violence, incest, faith, sexual orientation, bigotry, illness, betrayal, crime, divorce, corruption, family stress, war, disaster, immigration, substance abuse or the death of a loved one. These stories present obstacles, but they are not insurmountable. The challenges tend to fall in four areas: getting the interview, conducting a successful interview, collecting narrative material and telling the story. (more…)

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