In my line of work there are a lot of misconceptions about the process. Journalism, unless you’re working in it—and sometimes even if you are—can be shrouded in mystery. This isn’t even me talking about the current proliferation of fake news and badly behaved right wing shock jocks. Me of five years ago, despite running a student newspaper and being the boss of 17 people, was still periodically Googling “How to be a Freelance Writer.”
Part of that deep shroud of the unknown is how the interview process will go. Interviewing sources can sometimes feel, especially as the interviewee, like the weirdest job interview ever. You’re just trying to say what feels like the right thing for not particular pay off except (hopefully) not embarrassing yourself (at least in your own head). This can be especially true for disabled folks who, on the whole, haven’t gotten any media training and have reasons—thanks, inspo porn—to distrust many media workers.
Which leads me to want to write an access statement. As I wrote about last week, access statements exist for many reasons and in many places. They can be on art gallery walls, they can be on a non-profit’s website, they could be read out at a sporting event, they are (hopefully) a roadmap and a setting of expectations. You should learn something from someone’s access statement, but you should also be able to hold them accountable to it.
And so, here’s my first draft of one. I’m committing to myself, and to you, that some version of this will be up on my website by the end of next week.
Thank you for taking the time to read this access statement. My goal, in writing this, is to give you—whether you’re disabled or not—information about what being interviewed by me may look like. Things may shift, but my goal is to make this process as accessible as possible. My job is to create a safe space for you to be interviewed in.
How We Will Meet
I primarily do interviews in three ways: via phone, Via Zoom/another teleconferencing software, or via email. I use Calendly to book my interviews, a digital calendar tool that allows you to choose which method we will use. Some journalists are vary wary of email interviews, but I see them as a way to create access. For my own access needs, the format I prefer really depends on the day and the situation, but I am committed to figuring out which format works best in conversation with you.
I have auto captioning available during Zoom interviews, which you can click on yourself at your convenience. I cannot, on the whole, offer sign language interpretation, but have hosted interviews in a vast number of ways on Zoom including typing back and forth in the chat function. An interview by me will almost always be recorded, unless it’s an off the record conversation (more on that wording later). This will always be clearly communicated with you and your permission will be asked. When my Zoom room starts you will come in off camera and without your microphone on. This so that you can choose when to engage. You are under no obligation to have your camera on at any point. For phone interviews, you will be on speaker and be being recorded by an external device once the go ahead has been given.
One last note on interview questions. I may provide you a general outline of my questions beforehand if you ask, because you deserve to have a roadmap of where you’re going, but specific questions will only be sent if you require it as an access need. This is because I’m often booking an interview before I’ve had a chance to build my questions and I want to give the interviewee space to breathe and to go off course.
The reason some journalists are wary of email questions is that they can become a way, for some people in power, to provide deeply manicured answers. I default to wanting to provide access, so I find these discussions valuable.
Lastly, I do my best to be trauma informed, but interviews can sometimes go off in directions you might not be expecting. While interviews are usually done on the record, it is my responsibility to help you feel safe during an interview. You have the right to pause or stop the interview and you have the right to ask me questions. I do have ASSIST (suicide prevention) training and will do my best to offer content warnings where needed. Every interviewee deserves care.
There are three main terms used in journalism surrounding what can and cannot be used: on the record, off the record, and on background. On the record means what you say can be used and be attributed to you by name (including a pseudonym if one is negotiated). Off the record means you are giving the journalist information but that you agree that it is not for publication and is just for your information to further the story. Off the record has to be agreed upon beforehand or during, and the journalist has to agree to it as well. Sometimes interviews may jump back and forth from on the record to off the record and back again several times as people share things they may not want in the article but which they think is important for you to know. On background is negotiated. Generally, it means you can use the information, but that it cannot be attributed in a way that identifiable. This is where you’ll get wording like, “sources inside the team say”. On background is often used in political and tech reporting to protect sources or to suss out what is happening in a given situation.
After meeting, and once the recorder is turned on, I ask three questions of every interviewee. These change slightly depending on the person, but they boil down to: what’s your name and how do you spell it? What are your pronouns and which ones would you like to be used in the context of this article? And, what is your job/community title? Where relevant, I may also ask for professional designations/degree acronyms. I often work on stories where I don’t share the identity or background of the person I am speaking to—for example, I’ve reported on barriers to 2SLGBTQIA+ authors in publishing. In those cases, I do my best to share my context up front. I recognize that it is a privilege to hear (let alone report on) these stories.
Once the bulk of the interview is done, I end every single one with three questions: Is there anything you’d like to add, are there any questions you wish I’d asked, and are there any questions you have of me?
I am happy to restate what I’m taking away from our interview and, in some circumstances, may be willing to share after the interview what you said during (though you can also use the transcript function from the Zoom if that is a concern). You will not see the final copy of the story, and you will not get the opportunity to change your quotes if you didn’t like them, this is purely to check for inaccuracies on my part, like a misspelling of a company name. This is to protect the integrity of the process, but each situation is slightly different—especially if the story is related to your own personal experiences of a traumatic event—so I welcome conversations about what may be available to you. I usually find that a wrap up discussion at the end helps make clear what was said and allows us to address any concerns.
After You Are Interviewed
As a freelancer, I rarely know when a piece is going to appear. My email is always open and so you are welcome to reach out and ask for updates. If you have a public relations person working on your behalf, I can tell you that they often know long before I do when a piece goes live. Once a piece is submitted, generally speaking, I cannot change it. Please keep this in mind if you are asking for specific information to be inserted after publication. The answer will largely be a no.
After the interview has concluded, I am happy to answer any questions you may have or just to chat. I am not a licensed mental health professional, but I am here to listen before, during and after our interview. As a disabled reporter I know there are times where I’ve overshared and had to reel it back in with a journalist afterwards and so I want to offer the same space to others.
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