The Written Story: Interviewing

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This is the third post is a series outlining how the Austin Stone Story Team produces written stories. You can read the first two posts Background and Introduction and Leads and Assignments to catch up to today’s post.

In our previous post in this series on our written story process, I walked through how we decide which story leads to pursue, and how we introduce the storytellers to the story subject. In this post we will cover how our writers and photographers first meet with subjects and conduct the interview.

This is a very important phase of the process for both our storytellers and the story subject. The interview greatly impacts the quality of the story, and the success of an interview depends on the rapport the storytellers establish with the subject.

First Meeting

We constantly remind our artists that telling gospel stories is a pastoral act. Telling the stories of our church with care and concern for both people and theology is an act of teaching, and interviewing someone about their life and struggles is an act of counseling. By loving our subjects, hearing them clearly, reminding them of God’s truth, and sharing their story with compassion and honesty, we can imitate the character of God. We pray that our stories move readers to remember Jesus for who He is and what He’s done, but our concern should not only be for our readers. We should also care deeply for our subjects.

One of the more recent changes we’ve made to our process is an additional meeting before the interview. In this meeting the writer, photographer and subject get together over coffee (our treat) and get to know each other. These meetings are not recorded, and we don’t take notes. It’s sole purpose is for our storytellers to get to know the subject as a person—as a fellow brother or sister in Christ—and share some of their story too. While this meeting does help build rapport and will ultimately improve the story, we have higher hopes than that. We want these meetings to demonstrate that we care for the people sharing their stories.

At the end of the meeting, or shortly thereafter, the storytellers and subject set a time and place for the next steps in our process: the interview.

Interview

For the writer the interview is the most important step in the process. A great interview can be messed up by a poorly-written story, but even the best written story will not carry the weight and impact it should if the interview isn’t good.

We are always looking for ways to help our writers improve their interviewing skills and practices. For a great primer on how we think about interviewing, read The Art of Interviewing, Part 1 by Jeremy Rodgers, one of our filmmakers. In part two of that series, and other posts, we will have more interview tips for artists.

While each writer brings something unique to the interview process, we have standard recommendations that our writers are encouraged to follow:

  • As often as is feasible, include the photographer in the interview. Even if they do not ask any questions, having an extra set of eyes and ears can help uncover important details that might otherwise be missed
  • Record every interview. With modern phones it is easy to get good enough recordings with little effort or expertise. Use a program like Evernote, the built-in voice memo app in iOS or one of the many free Android apps. The quality of quotes for the story will far surpass what you get from taking notes alone
  • Meet at a comfortable location for the subject. Depending on the subject and their story this could be their home, a coffee shop, or elsewhere
  • Love and counsel your subject. Don’t treat them like a mine to be stripped of resources. Remind them of the gospel. Point to the evidences of grace in their story. Encourage them
  • Go through your recording and notes soon after the interview. Take additional notes while your memories are fresh

With the interview complete, the artists now turn to their next stage: writing and the photoshoot. In our next post in this series, our Lead Photographer will go through how our photographers plan, shoot, and deliver the photos for each story.

Do you have questions, comments, or great tips for the interviewing process? Share them in the comments below!

Feature image by Betsy Lackey

Brian Lundin

Brian Lundin is the Lead Writer and Producer for The Austin Stone Story Team and manages Storyteam.org. He is a storyteller and geek who lives in Austin, Texas with his talented wife Lindsey. He also blogs at brianlundin.com.

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