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Basic Guidelines For

TV Journalism


Prepared by
Michael Delahaye

This Basic Guidelines for TV

Journalism is part of Aljazeera Media
Training & Development Center's
efforts to present journalism to its
trainees in a principle-based way and
to raise awareness of the media's role
in the many areas of life.

This Guide is prepared by the British

consultant Michael Delahaye as part
of his course on the TV Journalism,
which was held at the Center in Doha.

Michael Delahaye is a
consultant/trainer with the Thomson
Foundation, a UK- based organization
which specializes in media training
worldwide. He began his broadcasting
career with the BBC in 1970 as a
Graduate News Trainee. Since then,
he has worked as a reporter,
correspondent and producer in news,
current affairs and documentaries –
mostly for BBC Television. He is also
the author of three novels. In his role
as a media consultant for The
Thomson Foundation, Delahaye works
in more than a dozen countries across
Europe, Africa and Asia, specializing
in Human Rights issues.

Basic Guidelines For TV Journalism

• Rules: The only rule in television is that there are no rules in

television. But there are guidelines and conventions which make it easier
for the human brain to absorb the visual and verbal information. The
nearest to a rule is: Never confuse the viewer - unless that is your

• Communication: Talk to your camera-operator before you go out

filming. Tell him about the story – what it will include and how you want to
tell it. Ask his opinion and advice about shots. If you require special
equipment – e.g. radio microphones - tell him well in advance.

• The Story: In choosing a story for television, you should ask four
questions: 1) what is the subject or issue? 2) What is the angle or focus?
3) Do the basic facts and figures support the story? 4) Is it possible to tell
the story in television terms – i.e. do we have or can we get the necessary
pictures? A failure to answer Question 3 before shooting is a particularly

common fault. For example, there is no point in making a film about the
shortage of doctors in your country if, upon checking the figures, you
discover that, far from a shortage, the supply of doctors actually exceeds
the demand. All too often, such key information is checked only after
filming has started…too late.

• Pre-production: When making a video-report, pre-production is as

important as post-production and – if time permits - should take as long.
Pre-production consists of a) research and b) ‘conceptualizing’ and
‘visualizing’. Think of a video-report as a locomotive pulling a line of
wagons. The locomotive is the idea or ‘the angle’. The wagons are the
pictures, interviews, archive, sequences, graphics and text which you will
use to tell the story. Before you start filming, make sure you have chosen
your locomotive and filled your wagons. Remember that the pictures
should also tell the story – not only your commentary. A video-report
should be a marriage of words and pictures – not an uninterrupted
succession of words illustrated by pictures.

• Responsibility: Filming requires the efforts of both reporter and

cameraman, but you – the reporter - are ultimately responsible for getting
the story ‘right’ and for getting the report on screen. Just as you will take
the credit, so you will take the blame. For this reason, you must be aware
of what your cameraman is doing. Make it your job to know his job.
• Lists: Before you go out filming, make lists of a) the likely shots you
may need and b) the key questions you intend asking your interviewees.
This is what professionals do. Only those who think they are professional
boast that they can carry it all in their heads.

• Pans, Zooms, Pull-focuses: Be careful! Use these only if they

have a purpose. For example, a slow zoom out from the reporter during a
stand-up can effectively reveal the immensity and emptiness of the
location. Or a pan across a room full of seminar participants may reveal
only one man among eleven women. Likewise a pull-focus from a building
to a wire fence will reveal that it is a detention centre. But never use a pan,
a zoom, or a pull-focus for its own sake. That is just showing-off or, worse,

• Mixing Shots: Avoid cutting moving-camera shots in succession –

e.g. pan followed by zoom followed by track. Aim for moments of stillness:
a single held shot. Remember: either objects move within frame or the
camera itself moves, or the lens moves. Moreover, if either the camera or
lens moves, there should be a reason.

• Subjective, Objective: Every shot can be rated on a linear scale
between subjective and objective. Close-ups tend to be more subjective
than wide shots; moving hand-held shots more subjective than static tripod
shots. Ask yourself what style is appropriate to the subject you are dealing
with – and choose accordingly.

• The Tripod: Some cameramen like to hand-hold the camera all the
time. But some shots must be done on a tripod – e.g. a close-up on the
end of a zoom. Insist – but remember that it’s the reporter’s job to carry the

• Sequences: These are the building-blocks of a video-report. But

they take time to shoot properly and may require people to pause or
repeat action for the benefit of the camera.

• Repeating & Faking: It is reasonable to ask someone to repeat a

purely mechanical action – e.g. getting out of a car and walking into a
building. But never try to repeat or recreate emotion – e.g. a mother
slapping her child in a supermarket.

• Interviews: Try not to interview people sitting behind desks – and

certainly not if that desk is against a wall. Get some perspective into the
shot. Make your interviews more dynamic. If it is relevant, interview people
as they are doing something – e.g. driving a car, digging a garden,
preparing food or even just ironing a shirt. But edit interviews short – no
longer than 30 second bites at a time, unless the person is saying
something really interesting or rivetingly emotional. You can include two or
more clips of the same interview in one video-report – but avoid the sort of
lazy video-making which takes a single interview and chops it like a salami
into half a dozen bits linked with commentary over wallpaper shots. That is
not a video-report; it’s a salami/wallpaper sandwich.

• Framing: When you shoot an interview, ensure the picture has

composition, contrast [light and shade] and perspective. Check that
nothing behind is ‘sticking out’ of the interviewee’s head – e.g. the leaves
of a pot plant or a vertical electric cable [see photo on last page]. Try to
keep the crown of the head clear of objects behind. Ask the cameraman if
you can look through the view-finder. Two pairs of eyes are better than one.

• Alternating: If you have a number of interviews in a single report,

make sure you shoot them from different sides so that, when edited, the
interviewees are not all facing in the same direction. If the report is about a

conflict with some people ‘for’ and others ‘against’, it is useful to have all
the ‘for’s looking in one direction and all the ‘agalnst’s looking in the other.
This makes it easier for the viewer to identify the protagonists and the side
they are on – and also helps when cutting straight from one interview to
another. The impression will be that the protagonists are face-to-face
trading arguments and counter-arguments, as though across a table in a

• Camera Angle: Shooting an interview with the camera looking down

on the interviewee diminishes him/her; with the camera looking up it
enhances him/her. Generally, mount the camera at eye level or just below
– but sometimes you may have to make compromises to include a
relevant part of the background.

• Children and Old People: When interviewing children and the

elderly, put the camera and yourself on their level.

• The Line: This is the axis that runs between two people, two objects
or that follows the main line of action. In interviews the line runs between
the noses of the two participants. In a soccer match it follows the line of
play, bisecting the pitch from the centre of one goal to the other. When
filming and editing, avoid ‘crossing the line’ if you possibly can. If you have
to cross it, separate the two shots by a close-up or a shot straight down the

• Cut-aways: Most filming – including interviews - requires the

condensing of time and action. This is done by using cut-aways [and cut-
ins]. Make sure not only that you take cut-aways but that they are relevant.
If you are interviewing a doctor, the stethoscope on his desk may be
relevant; a picture of the Taj Mahal on his wall probably not – unless he is
referring to a recent working trip to India. Close-ups of hands are often
useful if the interviewee expresses emotion through his/her hands.

• Visual Questions: Don’t ask these unless you intend to answer

them – e.g. a close-up shot of a half-eaten sandwich on someone’s desk.
What is it saying? Or a pan that is cut in mid-shot. Where was the camera

• Incognito: There are many ways to interview people without

revealing their identity. The simplest is to silhouette them against a light;

the safest is to cast their shadow on a wall and shoot that. Be imaginative
– see photo on last page.

• Double Check: At the end of an interview, make sure that the

cameraman checks both picture and sound before the interviewee leaves.

• Vox-pops: Short interviews with people on the street about a single

issue can be useful for ‘broadening’ an issue but they are also a lazy way
of pretending that you have done more research than you have. Use with
care. Also try to keep the questions with the same wording – then you can
cut out the questions when you edit the interviews together in a string. And
remember to alternate the sides you shoot from.
• Overlay: For variety, use the words of your interviewees instead of
commentary. Let the person tell the story him/herself and illustrate it with

• Reaction: The facial expressions of people often convey an

atmosphere more effectively than inanimate objects. Pictures of a fire are
greatly enhanced by the horrified expressions of on-lookers. Always look
for the reaction close-up. But remember: a reaction can never be repeated
or re-created. If you miss it, you’ve lost it.

• The Opening Shot: In some respects, this is the most important

shot of any video-report. It is the ‘hook’ which keeps your viewers
watching. If it isn’t grabbing or at least intriguing, you may lose them.
Never finish filming without thinking of what your opening shot is likely to

• Symbolic Shots: Sometimes called ‘visual metaphors’. These are

the shots that tell in three seconds what otherwise might take thirty
seconds of commentary. For example, the fall of Communism was
symbolized by single shots: the statue of Lenin being toppled from its
plinth, the sledge-hammer crashing into the Berlin Wall, the Red Flag
being torn down. Every story has its symbolic shot. Before you go out
filming, think what they are likely to be and make a note.

• The Stand-up: [also known as the Piece-to-Camera]: Be honest. Is a

stand-up really necessary or is it a case of “Hello, Mum!”? Remember that
a stand-up switches the attention to you – and therefore away from the
subject of your film. One tip: turning one side of your body slightly towards

the camera helps create a sense of perspective. And if you are doing a
walking stand-up, remember to walk before you talk – just a couple of
paces before you open your mouth to synchronies your words and your
walk. It just looks more natural.

• Archive Material: Whether film, video or just black-and-white still

photographs, archive material can be immensely powerful in telling any
story which has an element of the past. And remember that there is both
institutional archive and personal archive. Virtually every individual will
have a collection of family photographs at home [and perhaps even a
video tape]. When telling stories about individuals, always ask them about
their photo-albums. If the pictures are likely to provoke an emotional
response [e.g. a dead child or relative] focus the camera on the person’s
face as they talk about the pictures – and then repeat the sequence but
this time with the camera looking over the person’s shoulder at the photos
themselves. The point is that you can never recapture that first emotion.

• Actuality Sound: This is the third-dimension of television. It is what

turns the flat two-dimensional picture on the screen into a three-
dimensional image approximating to the ‘real world’. Actuality sound is all
around us in life; so let’s hear it on television. Use it as punctuation for
your commentary – the aural equivalent of the full-stop, comma and semi-
colon. Two or three seconds actuality sound can also help establish a new
location – e.g. going from inside to outside. Above all, let your pictures

• The Shot-list: A proper shot-list, complete with time-codes indicating

the start of each shot, helps both you and your picture-editor. It enables
him/her to find shots quickly and enables you to visualise the shots when
compiling your paper edit.

• The Paper Edit: Many reporters hate doing this – because it takes
time. But in fact it saves time. Thinking out on paper the intellectual and
visual structure of your video-report can save hours wasted in the cutting-
room trying ‘to find the story’. Also, if you do a paper edit, you can quickly
see when one element doesn’t lead logically into another – and rearrange
the elements accordingly. This is more difficult, more time-consuming and
more costly to do in the cutting-room – particularly if you are working in
linear mode. The greatest sculptors in history prepared drawings before

taking a chisel to the marble. To try to cut a video-report without first doing
a paper-edit is like attacking a block of marble in the belief that ‘there’s a
statue in there somewhere’!

• Editing: Compare the making of a video-report to the preparation of a

meal. The pre-production is the equivalent of choosing a recipe; the
shooting is going to the market to get the ingredients - and the editing is
the cooking. A potentially good film can be ruined by a bad edit, while a
mediocre film can be turned into a masterpiece by an inspired edit. Variety
and texture are the key. Vary the length of your shots. Cutting every shot
to the same length creates a rhythmic monotony. Generally, try not to cut
shots when the camera is moving – e.g. in the middle of a pan. Cutting on
action is done, but it requires skill to do it properly.

• Commentary: Keep it short – preferably no longer than 20 seconds

per chunk. Short words, short sentences. Remember that you are ‘feeding’
your viewers information. Unlike a newspaper article, they have to take it
in at the pace you decide and have no chance to go back and read it
again. Television is a ‘one-bite’ medium. So feed them small chunks and
give them time to chew, swallow and digest. And remember: the purpose
of commentary is to complement the pictures: not to describe what they
already show but to add relevant information.

• Words-first or Pictures-first? This is an argument as old as

television. Words-first is quick but crude and inflexible; pictures-first is
more ‘artistic’ but takes time. There is, though, a compromise. The secret
is to write your script first but to record it last. Each section of script should
be roughly timed and, once the shots have been edited in sequence,
adjusted according to the pictures – shortened, lengthened or paused for a
couple of seconds of actuality sound. Remember: if you have a choice
between changing the words and changing the pictures, always try first to
change the words. It is much easier for you to re-write your words than for
the picture-editor to re-cut the pictures. Finally, when the entire film is
edited for pictures and interview inserts, you record the script from the
start while the tape-editor mixes the actuality sound with your voice –
keeping it under or bringing it up for effect where there is a gap in
commentary. Does it take longer? Yes, but not much longer. The more you
do it, the quicker it becomes.

• Story-telling: A video-report is a story and should be structured like
one. Remember Jean-Luc Godard’s quote: “Every film should have a
beginning, middle and an end – but not necessarily in that order.” And
remember that most of the best stories are about people – real people.
Always ask yourself: who will be most affected by this issue? If you are
making a video-report about the closure of a television station, don’t talk
only to the General Manager; interview also the workers who will lose their
jobs and the viewers who will lose their favorite programmes.

• Finally: remember that television is a language. It has its own

grammar and vocabulary. To learn it, you need to practise it. Only then will
you be able to speak in pictures as well as words.




There are two competing theories about writing for television: ‘Picture-first
Editing’ and ‘Text-first Editing’. Television channels around the world are
divided between those who believe the words are more important when
editing a news video-report and those who believe the pictures are more


METHOD: The reporter writes the text [usually after viewing the raw pictures]
and records the text on to tape, leaving spaces for pieces of interview or
‘sound-bites’. The tape-editor then cuts the pictures to the reporter’s recorded
text [and drops in the pieces of interview]. In other words, the tape-editor has
to make the pictures fit the words. If the pictures are too long for the script,
.they have to be shortened; if too short, they have to be lengthened

ADVANTAGES: quick and easy

DISADVANTAGES: the pictures are often cut arbitrarily, and ‘butchered’
without regard to their aesthetic length or order. Generally, the text tends to
.be too long and only approximately matches the pictures

METHOD: The pictures are edited first and the reporter then writes his words
to fit the picture sequences that the tape-editor has cut. Finally, he records
.his script against the pictures

ADVANTAGES: The pictures take precedence and are given their full
aesthetic value. Television after all is a visual medium. Generally, the report
.looks more polished and professional
.DISADVANTAGES: The scripting process takes time, skill and practice


:METHOD: This is a five-stage process

1. The reporter views the rushes – i.e. the raw pictures shot by the
2. He writes his text and times each piece of text to the second [if
necessary using a stopwatch]. But he does NOT record his words.
3. He shows his written text, with timings, to the tape-editor. The
tape-editor then cuts the pictures with these in mind.
4. When there is a conflict between the reporter’s text and the
tape-editor’s sequences, the reporter shortens, lengthens, rearranges
or re-writes his words to fit the edited pictures. He may also add
pauses for natural sound to act as a form of punctuation. In

exceptional cases he may ask the tape-editor to change or re-edit the
shot(s). But, given a choice between changing the words and
changing the pictures, the reporter should always try first to change his
5. When both the reporter and the tape-editor are satisfied that the
words fit the pictures, the reporter records his text.

ADVANTAGES: This method is a good compromise in that it gives equal

importance to both the words and the pictures. It also enables the report to
.‘breathe’ by the inclusion of pauses for natural sound
DISADVANTAGES: It requires practice and takes longer than text-first
editing. But the result demonstrates that it is worth it. It is particularly
appropriate to the editing of ‘special news reports’ lasting three minutes or
.more, when there is generally more time allowed in the editing suite


.NOTE: These are guidelines only – not rigid rules

• Write the studio introduction first – before you start writing the script.
This will help you focus on the story and will avoid your first piece of text
being a repetition of what has just been said by the presenter in the studio.
It is possible that your news editor will change it but he/she will still be
grateful for your suggestion. Remember: you know your story better than

• Generally, scripts are for conveying facts and figures; interviews for
conveying opinion, emotion, anecdotes and examples. This is not an
absolute rule, but a useful guideline.

• Keep your text SHORT! You are not writing a newspaper article. In
television the pictures tell the story. The total length of your script should
be between a third and a half of the total length of the report.

• Each piece of script should normally be no more than twenty seconds.

If it is longer, put in a short [two or three second] pause with natural sound.
Remember: you are ‘feeding’ the viewers information. Don’t give them

• Keep your sentences simple. The art of good TV script-writing is to

write simply but without simplifying. Try to avoid subordinate clauses.
Television is a ‘one-bite’ medium. Example: ‘Ahmed is a television
reporter. He lives in Doha.’ This is better than: ‘Ahmed, who lives in
Doha, is a television reporter.’ Short sentences are also easier to
rearrange when you have to change the words to fit the picture.

• Do not describe what the picture already shows. Don’t tell me what I
can see but why I am seeing it [BBC Trainer, Frank Ash]. For example,
don’t tell me that ‘the President arrived in a large black Mercedes with four
motorbikes’ – when I can see that for myself on the screen.

• Use the ordinary language of ordinary people. Your words should be

conversational, not literary or poetic. Remember: you are speaking to the
viewer, not writing a letter to him/her.

• Don’t be afraid to ask the occasional question. Addressing your

viewers directly gets their attention. For example: ‘So how does the
Government plan to reduce traffic?’

• Have the pictures in your head as you write the words – like a cinema
projector inside your skull.

• If facts and/or figures are disputed or uncertain, attribute them to a

specific source – for example: ‘According to the United Nations….

• Try to simplify figures by using fractions instead of percentages.

Instead of 54%, you can say ‘more than half’ or even ‘most’. Instead of
72%, you can say “nearly three-quarters” or “roughly seven out of ten”.
But, when reporting elections or referendums, you should usually quote
the exact percentages.

• Say something specific – not woolly generalisations or philosophical

musings. You are a journalist, not a poet or a prophet.

• Sometimes the pictures ‘speak for themselves’. If so, let them. There
are times when the best script is no script. Learn to ‘write silence’ [Former
BBC War Correspondent, Martin Bell]

• Keep your language politically and emotionally neutral. ‘Terrorists,

freedom fighters, guerrillas’ all imply partiality. Choose a word that
describes without implying.

• Avoid adjectives & adverbs. These are descriptive words. The

pictures should be doing the describing. Check your script for adjectives
and, each time you find one, ask yourself if it is really necessary.

• When leading into an interview, be careful not to say in your script what
is about to be said in the interview.

• Avoid jargon. Don’t be tempted to show-off your own knowledge by

using the obscure vocabulary of the experts.

• The last piece of text is the most difficult – because by then you’ve said
everything you have to say. A useful trick is to look forward, to say
something about how the story is likely to develop over the next days,
weeks, months, years. Informed speculation is permissible.

• When you have finished writing, ‘fact-check’ every single word. Pay
particular attention to time references – ‘tomorrow’, ‘this week’, ‘next
month’, etc.

• When recording your script, get the right pace – not too fast, not too
slow. Remember: urgency and importance are conveyed by the tone of
the reporter’s voice not by the speed of his/her delivery.

• Always read your script out loud before recording it. If it sounds like
writing being read, re-write it. If a combination of words is difficult to say,
re-write the words.

• Remember that your script should fit the pictures and take advantage
of natural sound. If you have a choice between changing the words and
changing the pictures, first try to change the words.



• Be sure you’ve chosen the right person – one with the authority,
experience and knowledge to answer your questions. The boss isn’t
always the best person, though he may think he is.

• Remember: 1) Does the person have something to say? 2) is

he/she prepared to say it? 3) is he/she physically able to say it [stutter
or poor command of the language?]

• Don’t be lazy. Don’t take the first person who agrees to be
interviewed. For example, it’s often worth talking to two or three
different ‘experts’ to decide which is best.

• Don’t give questions beforehand – only ‘question areas’. Danger

of clip-board rehearsal of answers, which will look rehearsed. If you
have to give a list of questions in order to secure a vital interview, be
sure to ask supplementary questions.

• Prepare your questions beforehand. Write them down and check

that you’ve covered the key questions at end of interview. Writing your
questions is a valuable exercise in ‘thinking through’ the interview and
what you want to get out of it. Written preparation also gives you
confidence. But don’t feel you have to refer to your list while doing the
interview. It’s there if and when you need it. And feel free to change
the order of the questions.

• Fairness: explain to the prospective interviewee the context of

his/her contribution - whether it will be live or recorded and who else
will be interviewed for the programme.


• Protocol and politeness: remember to introduce the crew to the

interviewee. It puts the interviewee at ease and makes the crew feel
they are being treated with the respect they deserve.

• SOUND! You can run a television interview without pictures but if

you have no sound or inferior sound, you have no interview. So give
the cameraman time to check sound and make sure he’s wearing
headphones to distinguish between the level of voice and any
background noise, wind-noise or ‘cable rattle’..

• Check location for noise & interruption – dogs, aircraft, traffic.

• If need be, move the interview – to another place, another office or

even out of the office altogether.

• Often – particularly with ‘ordinary people’ – it helps to get the

interviewee to do something – preparing food, driving etc – while
talking. It looks natural and helps the interviewee with nerves.

• Put the interviewee at ease – don’t let him/her sit alone and ‘boil’.

• Beware of sheets of paper in the interviewee’s hand – what is
he/she intending to do with them?

• Don’t let politicians and government officials take control of the

interview. It is your interview, not theirs. You ask the questions; you
are representing your viewers, the public, asking the questions that
they would want you to ask on their behalf.

• Generally, it’s a good policy to check figures with the interviewee

before the interview to avoid a time-wasting dispute on camera –
unless the disputed figures are the focus of the interview.

• Safety: Take care with light stands and their cables – particularly
when children are around. A light falling on a person can cause severe
and permanent burns. Remember, you are responsible for safety.

• Beware of computer screens in shot – both technical [rolling] and

aesthetic [distraction or advertising] problems. Sometimes a blank
screen can be more effective than a working one.

• Avoid swivel chairs – or jam them against the table or desk so the
interviewee cannot swivel.

• Beware reflective surfaces – e.g. mirrors, glass. There is always the

danger of the cameraman himself being reflected in the shot.

• Beware points or patches of red – e.g. a bunch of flowers. And

white – e.g. shirts.

• Beware strobing or ‘noisy’ clothing. The cameraman should tell you

if there is a problem.

• Remember that you are aiming for the third dimension. Use
perspective & depth to achieve it.

• Consider soft-focusing the background to create a three-dimensional


• If appropriate to subject matter, consider an over-the-shoulder shot

to give depth to the shot. This is a difficult shot that requires a lot of
space: the cameraman should pull the camera back, zoom in and re-
frame the shot to equalize the head-size of reporter and interviewee.
It is essential to use a tripod for this shot. The shot is also a useful

establishing 2-shot over which you can re-voice the first question in
your text.

• Avoid officials sitting behind desks and too close to walls behind.
Get the interviewee out from behind the desk. Consider putting
him/her in front of the desk and use the desk as a background symbol
of authority. If he/she won’t move, move the camera to get a diagonal
shot and so remove the ‘barrier’ created by the desk.

• Tip: frame the background first and then adjust the position of the
interviewee – forward, backward, left, right. The same principle applies
with pieces-to-camera.

• The reporter or producer has the right to ‘check’ the shot for framing
and content. In particular, check for objects ‘growing out’ of
interviewee’s head – lamp-posts, trees, pot plants, etc. This is one of
the most common mistakes.

• Framing of shot: remember ‘head room’ and ‘looking room’.

Generally, choose a medium close-up [MCU] for news - to allow crawl
or caption beneath.

• Danger: interviewee wearing the same colour as the background.

Avoid or ask to wear jacket.

• Ensure the camera is positioned just behind but close to the reporter
to avoid a profile shot. The viewer must see both eyes of the
interviewee [exception: in-car interviews]. The viewer feels distanced
or cheated if he/she can’t see both eyes.

• Try to avoid stick-microphones – or at least fix it on a stand

somewhere in between reporter and interviewee.

• Decide whether microphone is in shot or out of shot – consistency.

• If using a clip-on microphone, hide the microphone cable.

• Check eye-level of camera – and the effect. Is the viewer looking

down on the interviewee or looking up to him/her? Sometimes you
have to compromise with the background.

• Children and old people: try to ensure the camera is on the same
level as them.

• To zoom or not to zoom? Communicate with cameraman before.
Generally, zoom on the reporter’s questions only – unless the
interviewee starts to show extreme emotion, such as tears.

• Put ‘FILMING: KEEP OUT’ notice on the door – or place someone on

guard outside.

• Explain to the interviewee that you want short answers – because

you don’t want to have to edit the interview and run the risk of
distortion or over-simplification.

• Turn off all phones and mobiles immediately before start.

• Allow the cameraman time to check the sound level.

• It is useful to record an interview independently on cassette or mini-

disk – for play-back in car or at home. Also useful for selecting a
choice quote from one interviewee and then putting it, verbatim, to a
later interviewee.

• Check that nobody is standing in the interviewee’s eye-line behind

the camera. This can be distracting and disconcerting – particularly if
that person is the interviewee’s boss or superior.

• Immediately before the start of the interview, remind the

interviewee not to look at camera or at the interpreter [if using one].
He/she must look at YOU.


• It’s useful to identify interviewee by name and his/her position on

camera – not for broadcast but as a check [particularly spelling of
name] and to help the picture editor identify the correct interview.

• Consider asking a ‘soft’ warm-up question first – particularly if the

interviewee is nervous. But if time is limited, go in hard.

• Generally, ask ‘open’ questions – ‘How? Why? To what extent?’, etc.
Not questions that can be answered by ‘Yes’ or ‘No’.

• Avoid routine factual questions – these are for text not sync.

• Be forceful without being confrontational. For example: ‘How would

you respond to those who say you are not fit to do the job you’re
doing?’ – rather than: ‘You’re not fit to do your job, are you?’

• Beware verbal ‘ticks’ – like saying, ‘OK’ or ‘right’ in response to

each answer, or muttering ‘yes’.

• Ask one question at a time, not multiple-choice questions, or the

interviewee will ‘cherry-pick’ the one he wants to answer.

• Try to avoid over-lapping questions – i.e. talking at same time as

interviewee. It makes the editing very difficult. But there are times
when it is necessary to interrupt an interviewee – e.g. to challenge a
figure or assumption, or just to shorten a long answer.

• Beware stupid questions - To bomb disposal expert: ‘Aren’t you

afraid, when you’re sitting on one of these things, that it might blow up
in your face?’

• Listen to the answers! It’s easy to stop listening because you are
busy thinking of your next question.

• Remember the power of the supplementary – the killer question:

‘How do you mean?’ ‘Give me an example? …or just, ‘Why?’.

• Don’t be afraid to repeat a question if it hasn’t been answered: ‘With

respect, Minister, I don’t think you’ve answered my question.’

• To get a clear and unequivocal answer, it sometimes helps to appear

stupid – e.g.: ‘I’m sorry, I don’t understand, can you just explain what
you mean in simple terms...’

• Don’t rush to fill silence and pauses. An embarrassing silence often

induces a reluctant interviewee to say what he/she really thinks or is on
his/her mind.


• Remember to shoot cut-aways and/or cut-ins for editing purposes.

• Some reporters like to repeat their questions with the camera on
them, after the ‘master’ interview. This is a potentially dangerous and
unfair practice – particularly if the subject of the interview is political,
sensitive or controversial. It is hard to ensure, for example, that the
words of the question will be repeated accurately, or even the tone of
voice. But it’s acceptable if the subject is non-controversial – e.g. an
interview with an artistic performer or a sports personality.

• Take care that the cameraman doesn’t cross ‘the line’! - particularly
when doing a wide, establishing 2-shot.

• When shooting more than one interview for a video-report, ensure

they are not all looking in the same direction in frame. For example, if
the report is about a two-sided issue, some interviewees will be looking
left-right, others right-left – ‘for’ and ‘against’.

• Establishing shots: After the interview and cutaways have been

recorded, shoot a short sequence with the interviewee – e.g. teacher in
classroom, doctor checking patients, lawyer consulting book. These shots
can be used, with text, to ‘set up’ the interviewee and give the viewer the
information he/she needs to understand why we should listen to this
person… e.g. ‘Professor Chilton is Britain’s leading expert on baby-
deaths. During his thirty-year career, he has investigated more than five
thousand cases…’

• FINAL CHECK: Always make sure – before the interviewee leaves

– that the camera-operator plays back some of the tape to check the
picture and the sound.

• Ensure you have the interviewee’s contact details – including mobile

and home number in case there is an out-of-hours enquiry. Explain
why you need these details.