It's my story: helping care-experienced young people give effective media interviews

How to practise interviews

Trainer notes

Providing young people with an opportunity to experience interviews can be quite straightforward. Something as simple as using a tape recorder helps to create a sense of being in a real interview situation. (Make sure you are able to play back the interviews so that everyone can hear them.) If you do have access to a camera and playback facilities this can also be very helpful, but make the distinction between a ‘radio’ interview and a ‘television’ interview.

Slide 18 outlines an exercise which you can introduce at any suitable point during the media training. Before starting the interview practice, talk through the possible questions this project may raise. Also agree the name and location of the project (otherwise young people may be distracted by trying to think up the name and location during the interview).

Encourage the young people to spend time preparing by doing things like:

Preparing for your role as interviewer

As interviewers you will need to prepare for this exercise by thinking up a number of questions you might ask. And be prepared to step in with another question or something like ‘so I think what you are saying is …’ if the young person seems to be getting stuck. If a young person seems confident and capable, gradually start to ask more challenging questions to encourage them to develop their skills. Good interviewers play Devil’s advocate and seldom agree with everything their interviewee says.

A chance to speak out

  • Your local media is running a story about a leaving-care project which is opening in the neighbourhood
  • The neighbours are protesting because they say it will affect the price of houses, and make the neighbourhood noisy and unsafe
  • You are asked to give an interview about this
Slide 18:

If young people have their own issues to talk about

Some young people may already have clearly identified issues of their own which they feel passionately about and may ask to do interview practice around these. Make sure you spend some time preparing for this. Good interviewers always do some research before they start the interview, so talk to the young person about the topic they want to be interviewed about.

If you have the opportunity, ask young people to prepare a topic in advance and bring some information, such as a press release or newspaper cutting, along to the training. You may need to take some time to read up on the issue before you plan your questions. (This may mean shutting yourself away during the lunch break.)

Setting up the interview practice

It is best to do interviews in front of the group and for everyone to listen to or watch the playback straight after each interview. This way young people learn from each other – which is a very valuable part of media training. The ‘brave ones’ who do interviews first are helping the rest of the group to recognise arguments, phrases and techniques which work well.

Explain that, during media training, if you hear someone use a great anecdote or explanation, it is quite acceptable to adapt this and use it yourself! When adapting other people’s anecdotes for general use always bear in mind the need to respect confidentiality.

Sometimes a little ‘tweaking’ of identity helps to do this. If you feel that saying ‘a boy of 17’ will give the person’s identity away, keep it to something general like ‘a young person’. For example, ‘I heard someone from our organisation talking about this situation they came across … apparently this young person had been evicted from their tenancy and …’

Nerves are normal

It is natural for most people to feel nervous in interview situations. Even seasoned professionals get nervous! Encourage all of them to give it a go, and provide lots of positive feedback but never force anyone who is really unwilling. They may not be cut out for doing this and may feel humiliated afterwards.

You may also find that some young people who do not want to try this out in front of the group will agree to do a one-to-one interview with you while the others are getting lunch.

Do not let the group be depressed by someone who does an excellent interview or uses this as an opportunity to start comparing themselves to others. Sometimes it is important to explain that some people are ‘natural’ interviewees (this is a skill like being able to dance, paint or play football) but everyone can benefit from practising and polishing up their skills. Also, people who are very good at radio are not always so good at television – and vice versa.

Some young people may take a while to ‘warm up’ during media training and may struggle in the early parts – but with practice and lots of support from the group, they may go on to give very focused interviews.

In this ‘radio interview’ Colin shows lots of promise but his use of the phrase ‘I’d tell them to shut up!’ runs the risk of alienating his audience, which was pointed out to him by other young people on the media training course.

In this ‘television interview’ later in the day, Colin has got into his stride, appears calm and focused and makes an excellent argument.

From media training for young people from A National Voice, commissioned by SCIE)

Involve a ‘real’ journalist

If you want to give young people the best practice possible then see if you can arrange for someone from the local radio to come and do some training interviews with them. Make it clear to the journalist at the start that this is for training purposes, and that they will not be able to use the interviews recorded at the time.

There is no guarantee that your local radio station will be prepared to do this – they may not have the staff or the time to offer this sort of help. But you might be lucky and find someone who is willing to do this for free or for a very small sum. Some radio stations have staff on their community teams who may be able to offer this kind of support.

Sometimes trainee journalists are willing to do this as well – but make sure they are experienced enough to make this a positive experience for the young people. A good journalist does not try to catch people out but helps the interviewee give the best interviews possible – sometimes trainee reporters take a while to realise this!