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  • Interviewees…Need I Say More?

     Brocha updated 5 months, 2 weeks ago 7 Members · 15 Posts
  • riva pomerantz

    June 6, 2020 at 10:03 pm

    Posting anonymously for one of our members:

    So…interviewees. Gotta love it, gotta tear your hair out from it! How do you decide what the right balance is, in writing up their words? I’ve had people who speak very casually on the phone and when I “tighten up” their style, get very offended! And I’ve had other people who are horrified that I kept their own personality and voice!

    Do you ask in advance? Do you even show them your finished product? I don’t want to offend anyone and yet rewriting after I’ve worked on an article for so long is a disaster! Thanks!

  • Brocha

    June 7, 2020 at 4:07 am

    The way I do it depends a lot on the format the editor wants. If she wants a question/answer format, I really try to keep their style for the most part but I do take out the myriad “likes” that often dot people’s speech, you know? And I substitute words if they keep using the same one, I fix up grammar… that type.

    If she wants an article format, I do my own thing but I insert quotes.

    And it’s really important, though it can be frustrating, to show the person the article first. So often people protest, “I never said that!” when I have the recording to show that I’d transcribed their words verbatim! Sometimes words seem somehow starker in writing and people may want to retract some things…

    Just my opinion 😉

    • riva pomerantz

      June 7, 2020 at 9:18 pm

      This is a great response, Brocha. I, too, am very careful to show my interviewees their words and get them to approve everything. I only want happy interviewees and a good reputation, both for menschlich/middos reasons and for professional purposes, ie. unhappy interviewees will never grant you another opportunity to interview them! But boy, do I know that certain interviewees can be a LOT to deal with! 🙂 C’est la vie!

  • Nellie Bly

    June 8, 2020 at 2:27 pm

    80% of this kinda writing is getting in the interviewee’s head. It’s important to read between the lines and understand what they want. I try to stick to their voice, but “sticking to the voice” means something different for every interviewee. For some, the “voice” is the message they want to share (or emotion) and for others “voice” it’s the exact details. In the latter, I have to work as closely with their narrative as possible, but with the former I take more liberty to adjust as long as it’s still true to the message and FEEL of what they shared. If you listen out for the difference, you may be able to hear it while you’re speaking to people or you can start a conversation with something like “What did you have in mind for this article?”

    And – if you did have to move away from their verbatim wording, it’s okay to explain why to the interviewee. It can be that you think it portrays their message better – or even a practical reason like what they said needed more explanation. As long as it always stays about them (like referring to it as “their” article and “their” story) people tend to be receptive.

    Hope this helps!

  • Menucha Levin

    June 10, 2020 at 7:41 am

    I have been interviwing artists about their lives and artwork. With some, we click right away and the interview just flows smoothly. With others it’s more difficult and I have to ask more detailed questions. But one artist just wouldn’t stop talking, wanting to include every single detail of his entire life!
    I always send them the first draft of the interview for any corrections or additions they might want which I feel is only respectful.

  • Fiction Fangirl

    June 10, 2020 at 1:01 pm

    I’ve been following this thread with immense curiosity and am finally gonna chime in.  I don’t write interview articles, but I do write fiction and wish to interview people for research purposes.  Problem is, for projects like writing a novel, I don’t believe an hour-long interview or even two for the matter will be sufficient.  What am I supposed to do with follow-up questions?  Keep corresponding with my interviewee?  Won’t that turn people off?  I’m talking about reaching out to famous people when needed.  Is there a bible for interview etiquette I haven’t read?

  • Brocha

    June 10, 2020 at 2:39 pm

    If you find one please tell me. Because I interview people often, either to write their story, or to feature their business, or just to write a simple question/answer interview. And I totally fake it out. Having a written list of questions to start with is very helpful, as long as I remember that I’m going to end up branching off of it :-). And if it’s a famous person? Forget it. After the initial, “My name is “Brocha” and I’m a writer for [censored],” I start saying things like, “Okay, so… um… Okay… Um… I’m intimidated.”

  • Fiction Fangirl

    June 10, 2020 at 2:48 pm

    Oh, be sure I will notify one and all when I find one.  How about choosing an email correspondence with interviewees who are intimidating over a face-to-face meeting?  That way you won’t lose your tongue.  You can sit and mull over how to craft the perfect salutations and stuff without fumbling in anybody’s face.  But since I am not an experienced interviewer, perhaps an email correspondence is an erosion of interview etiquette.

    Where is that bible when we need it?

    By the way, Brocha, not to fluster you in any way, but it sounds like you’ve got a lot of interview experience under your belt.  Mind sharing some tactics?

  • Brocha

    June 10, 2020 at 3:13 pm

    Sure. I love giving over every smidgen of information I have in just such a way that it seems like I have much more. 😉 Kind of like working the 6 yiddish words you know into a conversation so it sounds like you’re fluent?

    So please be advised that since honesty is the Masterpiece policy: I really, really just fake it out. Seriously! Here’s how:

    1. Start with the list of contacts from my editor, if she gives me one. If she doesn’t refer to step 5.

    2. Call them and email them, leaving polite messages as such: “Hi, my name is “Brocha” and I’m a writer for [censored]. We are doing a feature on [insert topic here], and we would be honored to have your input. I can be reached at…”

    3. Call them and email them again.

    4. Repeat steps 2 and 3

    5. Scour the earth for more possible contacts, by bothering everyone and their brother, uncle, Rebbetzin, goldfish… whatever it takes until all and sundry start to greet me with, “Hey, Brocha, how’s your article doing? Because clearly that’s the only thing going on in your life.”

    6. Set a time and place for the interview. In-person interviews can be recorded which is lovely. Phone interviews can also be recorded, if your recording device is not also your phone as it is in my case. Hence I take copious notes.

    7. Change the time and place.

    8. Prepare a list of questions.

    9. At the interview, start with your name and the purpose of the article.

    10. Reassure the person that you won’t write anything they don’t want you to write and that you’ll let them read it through before you submit.

    11. Start the first question with the requisite “umm, so…”

    12. Base your next question on their answer to the first one. Some people will answer in monosyllables and you’ll find you need to be an oral surgeon to extract any sort of helpful information. Others will be thrilled with the soapbox you’ve given them and will wax poetic, answering 6 of your questions when you only asked the first one.

    13. Thank them for their time.

    14. Procrastinate.

    15. Turn on computer. Stare at blank screen. Pray.

    16. Pray harder.

    17. Write. Use as many direct quotes as you can, but do weed out the keifel lashons and whatevers and likes, and give them a higher vocabulary than they ever knew they had.

    18. Email the interviewee asking them to read and comment.

    19. Pray again.

    20. Email them again.

    21. Read their response that they’ll get to it “shortly”.

    22. Tell the editor you’re still waiting for the interviewee’s approval.

    23. Editor tells you to send it in anyway and just resend with tracked changes afterwards.

    24. Interviewee responds. If they say, “Beautiful, thanks, go ahead and submit,” you are dreaming, cmon it’s time to get up!!

    25. Listen to their comments and their insistence that they never said it like that. This despite court-worthy evidence to the contrary. Nod, smile, apologize, and rewrite.

    26. Repeat steps 18-25 as many times as necessary.

    27. It may be necessary many times 🙂


    And that’s all. Really.

  • Fiction Fangirl

    June 10, 2020 at 3:21 pm

    Oh my gosh, why am I laughing?

    *holds sides while wheezing*

    I feel like I just read How to Ace the Interview for Dummies by Brocha.

    Why have I been looking for the Interview Etiquette Bible when it was right here all along?

    You have my thanks.

  • Brocha

    June 10, 2020 at 3:26 pm

    🙂 Anytime. And don’t worry, girl. I may be coming for you next time I’m interviewee-hunting.

  • Word Warrior

    June 10, 2020 at 10:21 pm

    wow that was an incredible read brocha!

    I actually got a response from the wellsprings editor to interview someone but i’m like…uhhhh i don’t know how to go about it and is it even worth all the time and energy (i also like writing fiction more than anything)

  • Esty Mendelowitz

    June 11, 2020 at 9:27 pm

    I have soooo much to say about the topic of interviewing, because that has been the majority of my published writing.  (Who am I kidding, I have sooo much to say on any topic, and whether I know anything about it doesn’t seem to make any difference!)

    Brocha, I loved your list, because it really sums up the experience.  I always hope people won’t start avoiding me at simchos because they just know I’m gonna ask them to be in one of my pieces…(“So interesting that you’re dealing with that health issue, because I’m actually writing an article about it …”)

    Like Brocha, I also start with “My name is Esty and I’m writing a piece for XX magazine.”

    I don’t record my interviews because it’s easier for me to work from my notes than search for a line in a recording.  I type super quickly, and then I can use the “find” feature on word to quickly get to what I’m looking for.

    I also tell them clearly that it’s not a court transcription and that they’ll have the opportunity to review it before I submit it to my editor.  I tell them that they have full veto power (because I don’t want to embarass anyone, so if they regret telling me the story, I can take it out), but won’t be able to insist that something go in.  This is important to me for two reasons:

    1. Because they know they can review it, they’re not measuring every word and the conversation can flow more freely than if they feel they are speaking “on the record” the entire time.

    2.  Often, you’re interviewing people because of their expertise, which is their business, so they try to plug their company/profession etc.  If they aren’t paying for the piece, you don’t want it to sound like an advertorial, so you must make it clear that they can’t insist on anything specific going in – you’ll just use quotes/ideas/stories that work for you and your article.  (I learned this the hard way – don’t ask!)

    Hope this was helpful!

  • riva pomerantz

    June 11, 2020 at 10:40 pm

    I’ve probably interviewed over 500 people in my career, if I had to give a guesstimate, and I am loving this thread! Brocha, you’re hilarious, of course, but basically everything you write is true! Esty, I like your guidelines–it’s always good to be clear with interviewees about your process, your expectations, and what they can expect to see in the final outcome.

    And who’s with me in totally double-daring Word Warrior to GRAB the Wellspring opportunity to do–and PUBLISH!–her first interview?!!! We will hold your hand the whole way and YOU CAN TOTALLY DO THIS!

  • Brocha

    June 11, 2020 at 10:57 pm

    Yes!!! Let’s go Word Warrior! I’m your cheerleader!

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