In many stories you do, there will be the one interview known as “the get.” For instance, when news broke about a gunman on the Florida State University campus in December, everyone wanted to hear from the gunman’s family. I got it.
Later, our area had a tragic story involving a 5-year-old thrown off a bridge by her own father. Everyone wanted to hear from the child’s mother. I got her. We had an officer gunned down, and everyone wanted to hear from his family. I got them.
In TV news, hours mean you lost viewers and people are going to the channel that has what they want. Throwing up a quick Web script and streaming the mom’s interview in the child’s death five hours before the competition allowed our Web site to get more than 100,000 views, networks were linking to our material, and viewers turned to our station. There is no doubt luck is involved with reporting. However, to consistently land “the get” interview, there are some considerations:
BE A REAL PERSON
People can spot phonies. Every family expects you to say you are sorry if they lost a loved one. But, are you really sorry or just saying it? Trust me, people can tell.
When I met the mother of the little girl thrown off the bridge, I didn’t say a word. Instead, I walked straight up to her and hugged her for a solid minute. When the hug ended, I told her I had no words and truthfully told her it was the worst story of my career. There was no camera, no notepad — just me being a real person.
The mother of the child didn’t want to talk at first. When our news truck rolled up, she ran into the house and left her fiancé to deal with me. I came up and introduced myself, and he quickly told me they weren’t ready to talk.
I asked him about the little girl and let him get used to my presence. I asked if I could at least introduce myself to the little girl’s mom. He said no. Ten minutes later, I politely asked again. This time, he went into the house and she came out. That’s when I hugged her. I ended up sitting with them for 35 minutes with no cameras. At this point, I was sitting on the ground holding the mother’s hand. I told her when she was ready, I would like to tell her child’s story. She said, “I am ready to be the voice for my child now.”
DON’T STOP WORKING
I see a lot of reporters get what they need and leave. We had an officer killed, and a memorial was set up at the police station. The officer’s family requested privacy, and we respected that.
I was sent to cover mourners and people leaving flowers. My competitors all jumped in their trucks after getting three or four people and began logging their story for 5 p.m. My photographer and I tag team stories. While I went to log, she watched the memorial. Later, the officer’s daughter showed up. We ended up interviewing the officer’s daughter as every other crew in town looked on thinking we had just another mourner. At 5 p.m., we led with that interview.
GIVE A DOSE OF REALITY
The Florida State University gunman’s family did not want to talk on camera, and my persistence was not paying off. It was time to be truthful. I showed his uncle what people were saying online about his nephew, and it hit home. I tried to make him realize this was the family’s chance to paint a different picture.
He asked me to come back in the morning. I told him that was not possible (persistence). My goal was to make him understand that his nephew — regardless of having a law degree and being well-regarded by friends — was not being perceived that way by the world. Sometimes when people find themselves in the midst of a tragedy, you have to give them a dose of reality and help them rationalize the situation.
LISTEN AND SHARE
Talking can be cathartic for some people. It makes people feel like they are accepted and understood when they relate. Look for and share mutual experiences.
I tried to interview a woman who helped rescue two children during a deadly home invasion. She didn’t want to talk. I started a conversation with her, and it turned out we were both from Chicago. It was off topic, but it got the ball rolling. Once we had common ground, she was no longer talking to a reporter, but more a friend. As her comfort level grew, she decided she did want me to tell her story because I gained her trust.
KNOW WHEN TO WALK AWAY
It may take a little reading between lines, but know when to walk away. For example, we had a family look on as their loved one’s body was pulled from a lake. Sure, my producer wanted the family on camera. I looked at them as they broke down in public and decided now is not the time to approach this family. They needed time to grieve, to process what they’d just witnessed. I walked away. This wasn’t a crime but a tragic accident.
Remember, you must be mindful of other people’s circumstances at all times. Situational awareness goes a long way.
Tagged under: Generation J