Working all the angles of the studio two-way interview

With the war on terror dominating the headlines, it is not unusual to see security correspondents such as Frank Gardner or Gordon Carrera sitting in the BBC studio being interviewed by a news anchor about the latest thinking in British intelligence’s inner sanctums.

Last issue we looked at how the two-way interview worked with the reporter on location. This week we are looking at the studio two way, often used by international news organisations, and featuring both the presenter and reporter in the studio.

People sometimes ask: ‘What’s the point of journalists interviewing each other?’George Matheson, a former IRN and ITN reporter, says: ‘One answer is expertise. The reporter is usually a specialist or is at the scene of the event and thus can bring authority to the report.

‘With many news programmes, it may be that the political reporter is recounting off-the-record interviews with politicians who do not want to be identified, let alone appear on screen.”

With the likes of Gardner, it is because he talks to, and is briefed by, people in the intelligence community and even sometimes those close to the terrorists. Wishing to keep their identity secret, it falls to Gardner to tell us what they say. Matheson says that, as with location reports, it’s a good idea to prime the presenter before the broadcast.

Channel 4 correspondent Alex Thomson says the additional material does give the presenter and reporter more to think about. ‘When using other material like this, it is important that the presenter, or reporter, knows which of them leads out of the soundbite.”

Thomson says it is also important to know what camera you are talking to. All reporters say the most important thing is to appear confident. With such an ad hoc form, things do go wrong. Matheson says if you stumble, do not give up. ‘Get back on track and regain control,’he advises.

The two-way is not necessarily, however, the ideal place to deliver material that is legally or politically sensitive. Probably the most infamous two-way took place when on 29 May, 2003, BBC Radio 4’s Today programme defence correspondent Andrew Gilligan said in an early morning interview with anchor John Humphrys that he had a senior source, who had said the 45-minute claim was the ‘classic example’of how the dossier was ‘sexed up”. In the course of the interview, he implied the Government had lied. The consequence of that interview was the Hutton inquiry from which the BBC has yet to recover.

Had Gilligan’s comments gone through the usual editorial process before broadcast, the consequences may have been very different.

But Thomson does not think that should disbar difficult issues being tackled in two-ways: ‘As long as you have a reporter well versed in, the subject it should be all right.”

Thomson believes that two-ways make for great broadcast journalism. ‘Enjoy it, it’s your opportunity to say two or three things about something you probably care and know a lot about.”

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