When most people think about the work we do as reporters and journalists, they think about the stories we tell through the articles we write and the pictures we take. I think the same way when I read other people’s work in the field.
But it really all boils down to communication, which is becoming more and more of a lost art. Oftentimes it can be difficult to get someone you’re interviewing to open up and actually talk to you. It’s like there’s symbolic barrier between the two of you, and it’s our job as journalists to break that wall down. If we don’t, the story suffers greatly.
You can see it in basically every article that is written. Stories that don’t have a lot of detail or many quotes don’t maintain the reader’s interest, leaving them to turn the page. It isn’t because the story is necessarily boring or doesn’t have meaning, but it’s because that barrier wasn’t broken.
Whenever you kink a hose, the flow of water slows down to a drip or even to nothing at all. When you unkink it, the water is able to release freely and becomes its own powerful force. Conducting an interview is a lot like that, and it’s our job to unkink the hose and soak up all of the water spewing. Some interview subjects have no kinks at all and will speak to us freely, but there are times when getting the kink out is nearly impossible.
You have to realize that every person you talk to for a story is different and how you approach them must vary accordingly. Through my many responsibilities with this newspaper, I have interviewed everyone from toddlers to people who have made the journey over the century mark. Interestingly enough, I have noticed patterns with how open people are based on their respective ages.
Young children can be among the most rewarding to talk to because they don’t have any preconceived notions about the world. They can be a little shy at first, but once you get them talking you’re in for a treat. But the older children get, the harder it is to get them to talk.
I’m the one who does the interviews for our “In the halls” section that appears on Page 2 of every Thursday edition, and I’ve learned over the past three-plus years that middle school-aged students can be the most difficult to get to open up. I always ask for volunteers to go first when I get started because there’s usually one student brave enough to raise their hand to break the ice, but at that age there is rarely anyone who steps up.
When I talk to high school students, the vast majority of them are extremely guarded and don’t want to embarrass themselves. There are some, usually athletes or the highly intelligent, that are comfortable talking, but even they sometimes have trouble. The same goes for young adults. They are usually really nervous and uncomfortable.
Then it’s like the barrier breaks when people reach their late 20s to early 30s. They’re comfortable, composed and are usually rather easy to get through to. That lasts up until they’re around 55-60, then you start encountering the people who tend to ask, “Why me? Why on earth would you want to interview someone like me?”
It’s a weird thing to consider as a journalist as to why age plays such a big role in how open someone is going to be in an interview. Part of me thinks it’s just a result of the different phases people go through in their lives, but part of me thinks that the different generations were shaped by the different societies and era they grew up in.
At the end of the day, though, opening healthy communication starts with building trust. For those of you have been interviewed before, that’s why we start with easy questions first to try to build a connection so we can get the kink out of the hose. But there really may be something to the age of the hose that makes it harder to get the kink out.
Reach Sports Editor Joshua Campbell via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.