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9 tips for improving your video interviews


Global Business Journalism co-director

Conducting interviews for video news reports is different than questioning sources for print stories. The imperative for high-quality images and sound add more challenges to your quest for the perfect answer. You also need to remember that you are performing for your audience in video reports, so you have to approach interviewing differently than print reporting.

Here are nine tips to help improve the quality of your interviews for video news reports:

1. Choose a location that complements your story

The location of your interview is an opportunity to underscore the theme of your story. Interviewing an American lawmaker? How about using the U.S. Capitol building as a backdrop? Is the story about the latest news from the stock market? Think of a visual that screams "money." If this is a corporate news story, envision a visual with the corporate logo or the product you are discussing. If you are interviewing someone in their corporate (or government) headquarters building, try to find a spot that underscores the company (or government agency). When you reach the interview location, choose an angle with the most attractive background and best lighting. It's not a disaster to shoot interview video in an office. But it's often a missed opportunity.

2. Choose a location that offers interesting visuals

Think of all of the "Room Rater" website that became so popular during the COVID pandemic. People like to see attractive and visually varied backgrounds during your video conversations. Avoid interviews that look like hostage videos. A few other warnings: White or light-colored backgrounds are boring. A brick wall is more attractive. But don't make the background too interesting. Bright colors, particularly orange or red, can overwhelm the scene.

3. Lighting is important

Visuals are a key part of interviewing for video journalism. Bad lighting (like bad sound) can ruin your report. If you're outside, don't shoot into the sun. Be careful of shadows. If you're inside, make sure the setting is not too dark. Don't interview someone in front of a sunny window.

4. Avoid audio or visual distractions

Be careful of conducting interviews in busy locations where people (or vehicles) can provide audio or visual distractions. Busy streets with lots of vehicular and foot traffic will tempt viewers to look at the scenery and not the interview subject. Also, beware the photo-bomber, that impolite interloper who decides to make funny faces for the camera or, even worse, interjects obscenities or other unwanted comments.

5. Pick a location where your subject is comfortable

Your goal is to get good answers to good questions. By making the subject feel comfortable (with pre-interview small talk or a location they choose), you may get better answers. That means better video. That means better video reports.

6. Write out your questions – but don’t read them on camera

Plan your interview from Point A to Point Z. Know where you are going to start and when you want to ask the most important question. But remember, you want to sound (and act) natural. Make sure you don't read your questions. And listen to the answers. Be ready to go "off-script" when it benefits your story.

7. It's OK to ask the same question twice

There are no "do-overs" in print journalism. But in video reporting, your interview could be interrupted by a phone call, a fire alarm, a (very loud) car horn or other distraction. In these unusual situations, it is acceptable to ask the question again so the interviewee can complete an answer.

8. Make the pauses work for you

This popular rule of interviewing is particularly relevant to video reporting. Lengthy pauses in any conversation are unnatural and uncomfortable. When the camera is rolling, that discomfort is magnified. The person you are interviewing may break the tension by blurting out something interesting ... and newsworthy.

9. Make sure the sound quality is good.

You want a consistent – and consistently good – audio track. Bad sound in video reports is even more distracting than bad visuals. As my friend Charlotte-Anne Lucas, who runs a video news operation in San Antonio, Texas, says, "If the audio sucks, the video sucks."

Rick Dunham is co-director of the Global Business Journalism program at Tsinghua University and is author of the journalism textbook Multimedia Reporting (Springer, 2020), which includes a chapter on video reporting and editing. This tip sheet will be included in the second edition of the textbook, scheduled for 2022.

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