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In 8 Points: How Citizen Journalists Can Conduct Effective Interviews

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When it comes to getting someone to share their story, there is a whole lot of preparation and perseverance that you need on your end as an interviewer. To get someone, on record, to say something that hasn’t been known previously or offers an insight about them or their work that would make your story unique, is a matter of you asking the right questions, sending out the right kind of vibe and above all, making sure the interview is as interesting for someone to give, as it is for you to take.

So here are a few tips to keeps in mind:

1. Research

The value of this can’t be stressed enough. A common grouse among people who get interviewed (celebrities, those in positions of power, authors etc) is when the interviewer turns up unprepared, asking basic things that they could have found on a quick online search. So do your background research well and save time on asking questions to which answers are already available.

2. Boring Questions Get Boring Answers

If you’ve put in the right research, you will discover aspects about a person that haven’t been written about much. Make that your beat. Figure out interesting, leading questions that will get you information over and above what is available. A well-researched question also earns you the interviewee’s respect as they see that you have put time and effort into finding out more about them and their work.

3. Open-Ended, But Not Vague

The trick for any interviewer is to ask a question that is narrow enough so as not to be vague, but not so pointed that the answer ends up being monosyllabic. Smartly framed, an open-ended question will give the person being interviewed the option to carry on, perhaps go off-point a bit but in turn, reveal something crucial. Give them the space to answer a question, but not so much that you don’t get the answer to your question. For example, instead of ‘Tell us about your project’ which is too broad, ask ‘Do tell us how your project encourages conversations around mental health’.

4. Listen, Don’t Prove

Too often, interviewers skip listening to an answer after they have fired off their question. Big mistake! You are there to get a story, so listen in when you are getting it. Your prepared questions are only to make sure you don’t end up getting nothing, but to really get something, you have to pay attention to the answers and pick out questions to follow-up with. Your job is it get the interviewee to say things, so keep your inputs at a minimal, only intended to get them to talk more. No matter how aggravating someone’s answers might sometimes be, listen and get your story.

5. Persist But Don’t Corner

When it comes to controversial topics, the interviewee might try and evade answering. Here is where your skills really need to come in. Try looping back to the same question in different ways. Cajole them by suggesting it is in their interest to answer, work to make them comfortable in the interview by establishing common points of interest, and that could help you get the answers you want. Heckling someone for an answer, seen on broadcast TV mostly, is the least effective way to do it.

6. Keep ‘em Talking

It is very important that you get the answer you came looking for. But that doesn’t mean you jump right to it. Once you have a conversation going, get your answer by asking questions that encourage the person to talk. E.g. Why is that? How do you mean? That’s interesting, could you elaborate on that? Even at the cost of sounding naive (but not ignorant!), ask. Get it from the horse’s mouth while you are with the horse!

7. Medium Specific

While an interesting interview will work in any medium, as the interviewer you should prepare yourself based on what medium you intend the interview to be for – print, digital or broadcast etc. That can help you keep your questions to the point for brevity sake in case of print, or more conversational and open-ended, if it is for broadcast.

8. It’s Not Over Till It’s Over

Surprisingly, but not really, it is when the interviewee sees you shut your notebook, that they really relax and say something that’s an icing for your story. Many a punch lines come out in those last remarks. So don’t turn off your senses completely till you’re out of the door. And if the interviewee didn’t say ‘off-the-record’, it’s still on!

While these are just basic tips, the art of interviewing is in fact really subjective and differs from person to person. Some people get the best profiles done by being persistent with their questioning, while some can just ease their subjects into the conversation to a point that they reveal all themselves. Spend time in trying to figure out what sort of interviewer you are. Find the balance between your comfort, the interviewees comfort and that which will push the limits to make your story great. And always, always, listen.

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  1. SV Divvaakar

    This is a poignant article, and one that should set us all thinking. As a layman I know this: tolerance and compassion and inclusiveness have been the true human strengths of India. Unity in diversity is a way of life that came naturally to us. Whoever is to blame, the pressing need is to build trust and compassion and believe in the innate goodness of the human soul irrespective of a name and faith that the good and righteousness will prevail.

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

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Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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