How to master the art of the two-way interview: part one

‘It is one of the most exciting forms of journalism, straight from the reporter at the scene into the front rooms of millions of viewers,’says Alex Thomson of Channel 4 News of the two-way interview. ‘The adrenaline doesn’t pump more than that.”

The two-way is an interview conducted by a studio-based presenter with a reporter and is widely used in broadcast news. It can be very dramatic – think of reporters standing on roof locations in Afghanistan with a firefight going on in the background.

Why do we use the two-way? George Matheson, a former IRN and ITN reporter, says: ‘It’s usually when there is a reporter on location and where that reporter is not filing an edited report with interviews, perhaps because there isn’t time.’

Here, the reporter is in the role of the professional eyewitness and is preferably located at the scene of the event they are describing, or are standing in front of a location associated with the event.

Thomson has experienced the two-way from both sides, as studio presenter and reporter from war and disaster zones. ‘The two-way probably started with reports outside courts in cases where you can’t interview anyone involved and can’t film in a court room.”

Although it is now a mainstay of broadcast news, Thomson thinks that two-ways are changing. ‘There’s a growing sense that sticking the reporter outside the empty government building in the dead of night might have passed its heyday. It doesn’t add anything for the viewer. But the two-way is still used extensively for court reporting.

‘Oddly, the court report is the one case where the reporter seen reading from their notes is deemed acceptable, indeed adding to the report.”

Two-ways are also used when a journalist who is an expert on the matter in hand is asked to give an analysis. In this case they might even be reporting from their home or office and not at the location.”

Matheson, who now runs a MA in international journalism at University College

Falmouth, says the advantage of a two-way is that it is a very flexible type of report.

‘It’s pre-scripted to some degree, if time allows, with the reporter supplying key questions for the presenter in advance,’he says. ‘With a well-orchestrated report it looks like the presenter is in control, but really, in practice, it should be the reporter who is in charge by means of a well-considered report.

‘Take a leaf out of the politician’s spin book. If asked about something you don’t know about, give an answer about something you do know about. This is known as bridging. Other bridging methods include, ‘That’s an interesting question, but what really matters here is…’ or ‘That’s a good question, but…’.”

Matheson says that things do go wrong on two-ways, but the important thing is hold you nerve. He says: ‘On one occasion Princess Diana was starting the London Marathon and I was doing a report for IRN.

‘I couldn’t see a thing, including Diana. I was asked by the presenter to ‘Paint a picture in words of the Princess there at the starting line’. Honesty was the only policy and I had to say that for security reasons I was unable to see, but I did recount what I had seen earlier.”

Most broadcast journalists will find themselves doing many two-ways during their career – master the basics and you will be in demand.

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