My Personal
FAMILY ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
site: fohp.info - file: whdointv.htm

Who Should Conduct The Interview? (β)

     As the person who is planning and implementing the task flow on this project you are the project producer. Organizing the interview, acquiring the audio equipment, conducting the initial research into possible questions, editing the finished interview(s), duplicating the CDs, etc. are all tasks (relatively) easily done as a solo venture. The one element of the whole project that should not be a solo venture is the interview itself. As stated previously, the interviewer should not also be the audio engineer (the person making the sound recording). Too much is happening during the interview for one person to be both interviewer & engineer. You are going to need to make a choice.

     If you have already conducted successful interviews, then, by all means, keep it up. However, you'll need to find someone (a friend or relative) to do the audio engineering for the interview. If that is something that you might be better at doing, then you will need to obtain the services of a relative (sibling, cousin, parent, ...) to conduct the interview — since this is a "family" project, the interview really should be conducted by someone within the family; someone who is good at conducting interviews (or, at the very least, has a good existing relationship with the subject).

     It has been my belief that the interviewer really should be a family member because there needs to be an element of trust & familiarity between the interviewer and their interview subject ... the degree of trust needed usually will only exist within the family. As producer, you have already demonstrated that you have the subject's trust — they've agreed to do the interview. You will need to identify someone else in the family that also has that bond with the subject — it will be easier for the interview subject to accept a non-family member as the recording engineer than as their interviewer.

[ I have heard just the opposite point of view expressed by some readers of this website — they consider the competance of the interviewer to be the paramount consideration; as such, an experienced interviewer from outside of the family is preferrable to a well-meaning but incapable member of the family. As producer, you will need to judge the interview subject's openness to non-family participants in the interview process, ranging from interviewer to recording engineer and perhaps videographer too ]

     In the end, if you are unable to obtain the help of an assistant (or two) for the project, go ahead and do the entire interview on your own — just expect that you will realize, after the fact, that there were questions that could have been asked, or asked differently, or followed-up upon, and technical issues that you did not realized needed to be addressed until you had reached the interview editing phase of the project.

     With the interview coming up, a script of questions should be written out — putting the most important questions first, with logical followup questions being asked immediately after the initial response on a topic.

     Have more questions at hand than you think could possibly be asked in the alloted time — if you don't get through even ¼ of them, then you have a reason to record additional hours of interview material. At the opposite extreme is the situation where you stumble into areas that the subject does not wish to discuss — are you going to press them on the point or are you prepared to move on to some other topic area? You are there to interview a family member for future generations, not to fill up several hour's worth of recording media.

Who would you rather be interviewed by —
Oprah, Mike Wallace, Howard Stern, ...?

     Put yourself in the place of the interview subject — how do you think that they wish to be approached? You might not think that you are being confrontational but their impression of the intent of the questions is the constraining interpretation. Openly challenging someone is the worst thing that you might do; almost as bad is the wheedling refusal to move on to another topic despite the subject's repeated refusal to answer a question. You're not from "60 Minutes"; you're not Mike Wallace. Don't push the subject to terminate the interview abruptly. The "Inquiring Minds" of future generations will just have to live with what the subject is comforable in divulging. And, don't be a smart-ass. You're not trying to entertain a satellite radio audience of goof-off slackers. Stay respectful and maintain a profession demeanor at all times.

Would your interview subject agree with your choice?

     Review the topic areas of your questions well before asking them ... each individual interview subject is different; each has their own "hot button" areas that will make them mad, or sad, or even make them weep. The death of their parents, the death of a spouse or a child or a sibling ... all potential areas that might turn out to be mine fields. Let the interview subject broach these kinds of subject areas themselves, as they feel comfortable with discussing them. Bankruptcy, foreclosures, lawsuits, criminal prosecutions ... perhaps interesting to you, but how inclined are they to talk about such subjects.

     The old Jack Webb "just the facts, madam" kind of interview is a good place to start — when they were born, where they were born, where they grew up, who their parents were, who their grandparents were, what games they liked to play, where they went to school, who their friends & playmates were, ... such simple questions, if asked in the right way, with well-considered followup questions, might easily occupy an hour or two of their time, and give you a really good starting point for other questions in new topic areas that you had not known about before.

     There are no bad answers to your questions, just bad followup to answers that almost beg new questions.

Getting the interview started & keeping it flowing ...
making the interview a conversation, not an inquisition.

     One of the things that I like to do as an interviewer or recording engineer is to start the recording session with a simple statement of who I am, the date of the recording, where the recording is taking place and who is being interviewed. (this is a good practice to observe as it makes the tapes self-documenting — you don't need to wonder about a bunch of tapes or memory cards with missing or smudged labels 20 years after the fact)

     Then, the interview may be formally started by asking the subject what their full name is, when and where they were born, and go from there. If the interview subject is at all a talker, you might get 15 minutes of information out of just those basic questions.

     As I wrote previously, starting each new tape with the date, time, subject name, interviewer & recording engineer name should be a standard procedure for your interviewer or recording engineer ... it also lets you lead into a the next logical group of followup question that expand upon the discussion thread that ended the previous tape; something like "we were just talking about your first bike. Do you remember what make it was? Was it a special model with a feature that you liked ...?" It gets the conversations restarted after the break and helps maintain the train of thought for both the interview subject and the listeners.




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    Page last updated
     12-17-2012