Tips of the trade - SECURING AN INTERVIEW

Chris Maguire, current affairs editor of the Bristol Evening Post, has interviewed many victims of violent crime.

The first step has to be convincing people to talk to you and your paper, and from my experience the keys are persistence and sincerity.

Two particular articles stand out. One was a woman whose face was destroyed in an arson attack. She turned down countless media requests, and it took two years of trying, through a mutual friend, before she agreed to see me. We met several times before anything appeared in the newspaper, and by the time it did I think she regarded me more of a friend than a journalist.

The second story was an interview with a victim of a particularly vicious rapist. It had to be handled with sympathy, and the initial approach was via her police liaison officer. Several months after the court case we sat down for an interview – a date which coincided with her being given the news she would receive £7,500 in compensation. So not only was she happy to talk but she waived her right to anonymity.

Freelance journalist Lynn Eaton secured an interview with Christopher Reeve for the British Medical Journal.

I met a lawyer friend and told her I’d really like to secure the interview, and she said: “I might be able to help you.” Within 10 days he’d agreed. Primarily I think it was because I was writing for the BMJ and it was a publication he wanted to be associated with, it wasn’t something like Hello! Also, the agenda was set clearly in advance. He knew that I wanted to discuss his case as a health-related issue.

The best approach is to be honest and not to pretend that I have one agenda, when, in fact, I have another. Also you should make them feel that they’re doing something worthwhile in talking to you, especially with a disabled person.

Daily Mirror reporter Steve Dennis got royal butler Paul Burrell to talk to him after his trial collapsed.

At the root of every effort there has to be a basis of trust. This means getting to know them before the story happens. If you come across as a double-glazing salesman, all “sell, sell, sell”, that is the quickest way to frighten someone off.

Be as relaxed as possible. There has to be a degree of persistence, but there’s a fine line between persistence and pestering someone. In order to know when you’ve gone too far, you have to have an instinct. Be sympathetic and say what that person would want to hear. Every doorstep is different and should be dealt with on its own merit.

Fiona McCartney was a trainee journalist for the Macclesfield Express when she secured the first interview with Leslie Oake, whose policeman husband was fatally stabbed during a raid on suspected terrorists. The day it all happened the national press descended, but Leslie said she didn’t want to talk to anyone.

I knew of the family through church and it gave us some information on how they were dealing with it and so on. I attended the service, but I kept my distance. We didn’t ring her at all, we just told the minister what we wanted, then one day they called us saying she wanted to talk to me.

She initially phoned me, and I then realised the sensitive nature of the story. The key was to express an interest but ultimately to leave it to her. We gentled our way into that family.

by Cat Rogers

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