>Interviews published as question-and-answer pieces are popular these days. You see a lot of them in newspapers and magazines. As a writer, I feel they’re a copout because they don’t require you to put the whole picture together as a real story with setting, dialogue and beginning, middle and end, but as a reader, I enjoy them. Why? They’re easy to read.
How do you do them? Record the interview, type it out and turn it in? Nope. I tried that the first time I got a Q and A assignment. The editor bounced it right back. She said: This is an educated man, but he doesn’t sound like it here. I want you to smooth out the language, remove the excess verbiage, and generally edit it to read better. Gasp. Change what the man said? That’s not kosher in other types of articles. But yes, that’s what the editor wanted, and I suspect that’s what most editors ask for in a Q and A. After all, few of us speak in perfect sentences unless we’re reciting a memorized speech.
So, transcribe the recording, but then use it as the raw material for your piece, revising and rearranging to make it work. Usually you’ll have pages more than you need, so you’ll have to pick the quotes that offer the most value to the readers.
How do you get Q and A assignments? First, look for newspapers or sections of newspapers that use them. If they never publish a question-and-answer piece, they’re not going to start a new trend for you. But if they do use them, come up with an appropriate subject and e-mail them a query. If time is short, say George Clooney is going to be in town for one day–and they cover things like visiting movie stars–telephone the editor. He’ll probably still want to see a written query, but you can save yourself some time by asking if he’d be interested.
If you’ve never done a Q and A before, start looking for them and studying how they’re put together. What kinds of questions are asked and how many questions are there? How much introduction precedes the questions? Try doing an interview and putting it into Q and A form just for practice. Who knows? You may be a natural at it.
>The news is full of the Utah mining disaster. If you happen to have any connection, special knowledge or story ideas about mining and mining disasters, e-mail your query to your newspaper of choice immediately. You don’t have to be in Utah. If you’re in another area that has underground mines, I’m sure people will be thinking about their safety, just as when the bridge collapsed in Minnesota, officials in every state started looking at their own bridges.
If you’re not up for an article, how about an opinion piece? One question that nags me is how much people should risk their own lives in emergency situations, especially when the people they’re seeking are probably dead. Should they go into the mine? Should they dive into the polluted water to look for bodies in the cars that came off the bridge? Should they go into a building that’s about to collapse? Who makes the decision to stop or to keep going and how do they live with that decision? Look at all the people who died trying to save victims of the 9/11 attacks. Now some of the rescuers who survived are sick from all the junk they breathed in. I don’t have the answers, but these questions could become excellent op-ed pieces. Again, don’t wait. News gets stale fast.
Here’s are a couple other questions: Hundreds of people died in the earthquake in Peru. More than 200 people were killed in Iraq the same day. How come CNN went on and on for hours about the 9 people hurt in the mine? And why were they so obsessed with knowing which miners went to which hospitals? Meanwhile, the streamers under the main screen told of terrible death and destruction elsewhere–which good old Anderson Cooper didn’t even mention. What does that say about the priorities of our news providers?
Thoughts to ponder.