The Quick And Dirty Guide To (Not) Notetaking During Podcasting
For about two years - 2006-2007 - I helped a PhD student do her research in the remote and rural areas of Western Australia, collecting qualitative and quantitative data on the ramifications of the raising of the school leaving age from 16 to 18-19 years of age. We travelled great distances and talked to teachers, administrators - and a lot of young people. Essentially, we went to areas where there were a lot of disenfranchised young people who voiced their dissatisfaction with the lack of options, money, resources, businesses and government outlets to help them with their shrinking opportunities when it came to finding a job or seeking the career they wanted. It was often very depressing, sometimes inspirational when they talked about their versatility and work ethic. I was there to help conduct interviews, collate and sort data, document our progress - and drive a car on really long, never ending roads. It was there I first started to learn about collecting data from interviews. And the one thing that the PhD researcher emphasised was to LISTEN. Put your pen down. Pay attention. Interact. Sure, it's being recorded - but you will miss things and they will respond differently if they think for just one second that you're not engaged with the important data they're producing for your benefit. If she caught me picking up a pen during a session, she would quietly seize my wrist and take it from me. Even now, when I hold a pen during interviews, I feel a tightening around my watchband and a Mancunian accent (she was from Manchester) hissing at me to pay some respect to the job at hand. So, I usually note-take extensively BEFORE the interview and brainstorm - and have the items in front of me. By the end of the interview, I might find myself doodling as a reward for a "job done". But the rest must be done either before the interview, or only during in case of emergency - like reminding myself with a maximum of three words to ask for clarification on Point X. Or a timestamp where something happened with the audio that will need editing ("Interviewee leaves room to answer phone = 23:30; returns 26:40min" or "I sneeze: 6:30min"). Guide to Annotations: A - FOR GOD'S SAKE WRITE DOWN THE NAME OF THE PERSON YOU'RE INTERVIEWING NICE AND CLEARLY. Nothing more embarrassing than having a total brain-blank in the middle of the talk and trying to remember if it's Arthur or Andrew at the very end. I like to end with a "thank you very much, Sharon Hill," to encourage people to remember that they want to hear more from them. B - Dates. Times. Correct titles. Things that you have researched that "might not come up" but you don't want to be dithering with a poor memory and saying "Well, it's not like-that-film-you-know-the-one-with-the-chainsaw-maniac-and-that-girl-from-Firefly-what's-her-face-only-saw-her-last-week-on-Elementary-you-know-huh?" rather than a pithy summation of "Free Willy, 1993 - it's no Keiko situation, right?" Which brings me to: C - It should go without saying: but do your research and ALSO do your gut feelings. Write down some thoughts as well as the important facts, dates and minor details. You may not agree with everything they've done, so have a nice argument formulated and put down for reference, rather than just saying "Meh, most of it was cool, but those bits didn't do so much for me," and get a "WHYYYYY???" in return. You don't know when the interviewee might turn around and say "Well, that's what I was hoping to do with writing the book / doing the film / creating the site / birthing my masterpiece - what DO YOU THINK OF IT??" ...And at least you can rattle off some immediate feelings rather than grabbing at thoughts you had over a month ago when you finished reading their book and were waiting for them to complete their international tour before they chatted to you via Skype. Dot points are fine. Writing a long review and then transcribing it to something shorter is better. Re-reading or re-viewing the topic for the interview _at least twice_ - is mandatory. D - The Difficult Question. Some people may not warrant one. Sometimes you will feel as if you are letting your audience down unless you ask: "Why did you leave the company - there were rumours that it was because of how X treated you?" Or (more recently) - "The company Y is still suing you after you broadcast some criticism on your show. Are you able to talk about it... or is it best left for the court case happening soon?" You may like to tell your interviewee that you'll ask about it before the interview, so they don't feel broadsided and can come up with a strong answer that may (or may not!) satisfy the listeners. It's up to you. Sometimes it feels intellectually dishonest UNLESS you ask that question/s. They can always say "no comment". One of the nicest interviews I recall was of Australian TV's Andrew Denton (a great favourite of mine), interviewing the recently divorced Phil Collins, who had been dragged through the tabloid press over his broken relationship. At one point Collins turned to him and pointedly said "Don't you want to know ALL ABOUT MY MARRIAGE?!?" Denton blithely replied "Oh, we're not interested in that here - we want to know about your music," and continued asking questions about his new collaboration. And to see Phil Collins suddenly stop short in utter shock - and then start talking eagerly and in detail about the creative process was really cool. It drove home to me that you can often get a great interview by deciding "No, this is what I want to talk about," and do it, rather than muck-rake for a scoop, or ratings or shock value, or whatever. I've only had one person say that there was something they needed to be off-the-record, but they were happy to talk to me about it privately to sate my curiosity. And I now tell people if they criticise them about the matter, that they should just contact them if they really want an answer - and maybe one day they'll feel comfortable to talk publicly about it. And people who DO eventually get that interview and get an answer on the "difficult topic" can feel glad that they got something I wanted answered too. It just won't be me. Maybe the difficult question won't be answered to your satisfaction and you'll rephrase it or let it drop. It might have got an emotional response (I once had an interviewee in tears after the very first question on a difficult life story, and had to back-pedal to some neutral data-questions so they could gather themselves up and continue) or an aggressive response, or just a vague response. These are the risks of asking The Difficult Question/s. Sometimes you have to say to yourself: "I wasn't happy with their answer, but that may be because I don't agree with their principles or their reasoning or find their response insulting for some reason - but it's _their_ answer and they stand by it. It doesn't reflect on me. If they want to talk more about it, they are welcome to do so after or individually with people. Let's move on". Of course, sometimes an "ordinary" question may turn out to be a difficult one without you realising it, and that's always kind of cool. Which is why I usually have a pen nearby JUST IN CASE OF EMERGENCY to jot down a "??" quickly and ask for clarification once they've finished. E - The doodles. Usually intersecting lines, sometimes some circles. I like waves and arrows, and stars in circles and Zebra stripes. These are my rewards after the interview is finished and I'm chatting with them to clarify where the url is and what they're up to next and so on. Around about then, the PhD student can be seen in ghost-form, rolling her eyes at me and sulking into her own-rolled cigarette. I hope this helps a little with understanding the behind-the-scenes process. The notepad is a very large one from Kiki-K, which has a different style for each page, so it's a nice surprise to flip the paper over and discover something new with spots or stripes or wiggles every time I start anew. I have a stationary addiction.