By Jane Marie
So, now that you know what kind of prep you need to do in your head to get good tape, let’s talk about prepping out in the world. Today we’ll explore the topic of the pre-interview. You know, fact finding, information gathering, sussing it out, all that jazz.
The first thing to keep in mind about the pre-interview: it might kill your story, and that’s OK! That’s one of the most important functions of pre-interviewing subjects: to see if they belong in the piece and whether their story has merit. Also, is the person a good talker? One of the biggest differences between radio and print is that you actually hear the subject speaking. In print you can make a boring person (or a droning person, or an ornery person) palatable with your writing, but in radio that person comes through.
The best pre-interviewing is done by someone other than the reporter, but this is a luxury most independent producers can’t enjoy. If you can somehow wrangle someone into being your producer for 30 minutes, have them call the subject and chat for a bit about the major points of the story. Ask them to take notes and hand you a bulleted list to reference during the recorded interview.
If you must do the pre-interview yourself, try to record it. You never know what someone will say or what natural disaster might interrupt your call, so if you can, get it on tape.
Which brings us to the element of surprise. This is crucial in a radio interview. If you’re chatting during the pre-interview and something weird or surprising starts to come up, STOP AND SAVE IT FOR THE TAPE. As the reporter, you want to be surprised and have your natural reactions in the piece, and if you know the whole story before you hit record, you kill all of that potential excitement. Remember that you are a stand-in for the listener. Hearing a reporter learning is more compelling than hearing a reporter reporting.
The pre-interview is just a chance to see if you’re on the right track. Be open to the possibility that you’re not — and that it's not a track worth taking to the finish line.