By Jane Marie
Getting good tape. What does that even mean? Well, first let’s think about the differences between reporting for audio versus print. In print, we can do interviews over the phone, we can call sources multiple times, we can restate things in a more elegant way than our subjects might have said them. A print reporter wields a lot of flexibility and power in their reporting. In contrast, the radio or podcast reporter needs to make all of that important stuff happen in the tape. Today we’re starting a five-part series that will run each Friday on how to get what you need to make your story work.
The 4 Steps to Getting Good Tape
1. Decide what you’re looking for from your subject.
This does not mean that you go into an interview with your conclusions drawn and the story already written, but it does mean that you should have a good idea of what you’ll need for your story to work.
2. Imagine the ideal version of your story.
Picture the beginning, middle and end of the piece. If you were just a listener, what’s the structure that would be most intriguing to you? This can, and probably will, change, but it’s sort of like glancing at a map before you hit the road. It’s helpful to have a sense of where you’re going in an interview ahead of time. Once you’ve pictured the whole thing, make an outline and let that guide your line of questioning, remembering that you can take a detour or ten if necessary.
3. Ask yourself: As a listener, what’s the first piece of tape I'd want to hear in this story?
Is it a car door slamming? Someone screaming at their kid? A long anecdote that sets up the central question? A lot of audio pieces begin with the obvious: a story about school lunch starts with a slow fade up on cafeteria ambience, a piece about a heart transplant begins with the beeping of heart monitors in a hospital. These obvious choices are what make most radio pieces boring and predictable. What if you could start that lunch story with sound from the frozen burrito factory? Or the heart transplant piece could open on the plunking down of the cooler containing the new heart? Gross! But surprising, and it creates a vivid image. Get creative and then go get that first clip.
4. Don’t be afraid to change your mind midstream.
This is one thing that trips people up quite often. We have the ideal story in our heads and a list of questions in our notebook. Don’t forget that you made that all up! You wrote all of those questions, so if you find they’re not working, you can write new ones on the fly. Those notes are suggestions, little ideas to keep the conversation going, but they’re not hard and fast directives. If you suddenly find yourself on a different, more interesting path, that’s great! Follow the story and don’t get tied down by all of your precious prep.