Updated: Jun 6
An interview can be a minefield on a sensitive topic. You don't want to say something thoughtless and disrupt your next article's subject, but you need all the details you can get to make sure you have something to write on.
Our production team went through an experience of this with their production for Telly; Police Stories. Click here to watch it on now Telly! This show is based on real-life police stories, with life testimonials from the victims. The show is case sensitive and discusses the mistakes of people and how others can benefit from the victims' experiences to avoid the same happening to them. Thanks to this experience, we have put together 10 top tips to conduct a sensitive interview so that you can't put your foot in it.
Do not jump straight in — this is particularly important when conducting telephone interviews; do not just call up your interviewee and start firing off questions. It might be tedious and a little time-consuming but a few minutes of a casual chat with a potentially anxious interviewee will also help you put them at ease before you continue with the serious stuff.
Map it all interview out — Continue putting your interviewee at ease by signposting the topics you would like to talk to them. It allows them to start preparing their answers, which will potentially alleviate any possible nervousness about the interview they might have.
Check what they are happy with — is it okay to record your interviewee? Are they delighted to associate their image to the article? Do they like to be pseudonymised?
You have to double-check what they would like — a satisfied interviewee is a talkative interviewee. - Meshari Al Mufti, Cameraman, Police Stories
Just ask for as much detail as they are happy to give — No matter how hard you work to put an interviewee at ease, there may be some things they don't want to go into details. Let them know you understand that it's hard to talk about other issues and you're glad that they only give you as many details as they're comfortable.
Punctuate it with some empathetic prompts — Don't sit in silence while your interviewee speaks about things that may be distressing for them to discuss. Use some empathetic prompts to let them know that you're always listening and that you're grateful for communicating with them.
Keep talking — It may be an obvious one, but in interviews on sensitive subjects, don't let silences escalate. If it sounds like an interviewee has said everything they need to say in answer to your last question, ask the next one.
Do not ask the same question twice — Once you have formed a relationship with an interviewee, you can find that they have a lot to say about a specific subject. Listen closely to their response and if they end up answering a question that you were going to ask, don't ask it again — some scripts can be deviated from.
Run through what you discussed — Remind your interviewee of subjects that you covered after you have all your answers. It is a perfect opportunity for them to add or change their responses.
Have any questions? An interview is not to be a one-way path. If an interviewee has any questions for you on how you intend to use their responses, they should be given the opportunity to ask them.
What now? It is almost time to finish up, so if an interviewee was nice enough to take the time to discuss with you a sensitive topic, let them know what will happen next. Can they have a preview before the video goes out? Where can they find it after it has been published? Where would they draw on any problems with you?
Maintaining the interviewee's comfort throughout the interview can be a difficult task. At Cinemagic, we believe in creating an experience for all parties involved in the film-making process. Our creative approach for every production is a dynamic collaboration in visual storytelling. We strongly believe in being able to create impactful visuals that can drive the emotions of the audience and leave imprints on their minds.