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Skip to 0 minutes and 9 seconds So given the subject area, did Stephanie, and Lori, and Jess, did they feel uneasy telling you these very intimate details about their lives? Could you tell? They are very open people, you know. I think that they’re not your like street savvy, jaded, cynical [LAUGHTER] hardened– they just seemed open. And they– I know Stephanie cried. Yeah, actually both of them cried. And I think Stephanie is such a survivor - she’s had to survive in some ways since she was a child. She seemed that way when we were going through it, that she– I know that she, I know that she was really, really nervous. But she didn’t, you know, it didn’t stop her from being very competent at talking.

Skip to 1 minute and 15 seconds Were you embarrassed at times to ask the questions that you knew that you had to ask to get the story. Maybe when I was younger and doing these kinds of stories, I was. I didn’t know, you know, there are those questions. It’s funny because– and you almost feel like you wanted to ask them right away get them out of the way, because it’s like, there’s so, like you know, like all you’re thinking about the question, you know. Have you had cosmetic surgery? Or did he rape you? Or how did it feel when your son committed suicide? Like you know, you’re sort of obsessed with a question.

Skip to 1 minute and 50 seconds But in this case, I guess I kind of just, you know, I really put myself like as almost a therapist friend, you know. Like that, like I also say like in this case and pretty much– and many cases. I’ll say like, I might preface a question that’s really tough like that, or possibly shameful. Like you don’t have to answer this right now if this is too much. Or we can come back to this. But I am curious, you know. Did he do this to you, or whatever the question is. I mean, there are ways you can help the person. It’s embarrassing, but if you’re really deep in the conversation, it can sort of feel natural, you know.

Skip to 2 minutes and 45 seconds You know, I have to ask this. Did this happen, or you know. Just in general, how do you handle interviews on tough subjects like this one?

Skip to 2 minutes and 59 seconds I do a lot of them. And one thing I’ll do, this might be too sort of inside baseball, if people like, here is something where I was embarrassed and I found out an answer from it. I had to call– Yeardley Love was a very, she was a young beautiful girl, college student who was murdered by her boyfriend in a kind of a domestic violence situation. And she made news all over the country. And I was supposed to call her family and see if I could talk to her sister. And it had just happened pretty recently. So basically when I called, the woman hung up on me. I mean, she was in the big process of hanging up.

Skip to 3 minutes and 52 seconds But there was somehow I managed to squeak in a question like how have you– she said something like, we’re just really sick of the media. And so I said, what has the media done that you hate, or something like that. Like how have you been hurt by the media? And she said, oh they’ve been using the killer’s picture everywhere. And I said, oh we would never do that. And that opened her up a little bit. I found out what they’re worried about, or how they’ve already been sort of feeling even more victimised by the media. And you certainly don’t want to be the person who’s doing that to them.

Skip to 4 minutes and 40 seconds So I sort of come out on their side and say oh, we don’t have to do that. Or we’re not ever going to do that. We’re going to do it this way. What advice would you give to future journalists who may be apprehensive about talking to strangers about personal things? Because knowing the questions, being prepared with the questions is one thing. But very often, beginning journalists, the battle was within them to cross that boundary of intruding into other people’s space asking those questions. Right.

Skip to 5 minutes and 13 seconds One thing is, I mean, I’ll just tell you that from having done this for a long time, almost everyone that does end up talking to you, now I mean, most people who end up telling you their story in some detail feel better about it. It’s empowering for them. I mean we’re talking about a specific kind of interview, where someone’s been victimised. Or they’ve gone through a really traumatic situation, embarrassing situation. And really if they are half agreeing to talk to you, there’s part of them that wants to tell the story.

Skip to 5 minutes and 58 seconds So I think if you put yourself in those shoes and say, I’m helping this person tell their story in a nice way that’s going to make their voice heard and is going to help other people in their situation. So a lot of times, I do feel like my job is to help people have their voices heard. The last thing that I would say is when you, and this I’ve learned also from when I do interviews I’d say, OK this is it. I’m getting it all in one time. And that’s it. Then I go write my story.

Skip to 6 minutes and 33 seconds But I think the thing with this kind of interviewing, and we talked about some of the reasons why, you will be so much more successful if you kind of set it up as maybe a series of interviews, or you at least leave the door open for you calling back or even emailing back with some questions. And you know, if something’s a really sensitive topic, you might pursue that by email a little bit more to get those details. Because then they’re in control of writing the answers if you set up a conversation. And I just always like to leave it open for people to know that we don’t have to get this right right now.

Skip to 7 minutes and 15 seconds You can think about a little bit. And we’ll come back to it. And that also takes the pressure off. So that’s another thing I really like to do.

Interviewing 'ordinary' people - part three

Please listen to the second part of Dr Eckler’s interview with Liz Brody, Editor-at-Large at Glamour magazine in the USA.

Here, Brody expands on how she conducted sensitive interviews and reveals the ways in which certain behaviours and techniques were effective in getting her interviewees to articulate their thoughts on difficult subjects.

What are your opinions regarding Brody’s advice? Are there things that you might have tried? Please post your thoughts in the comments area.

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Introduction to Journalism

University of Strathclyde