Jan 12, 2022 06:33 PM

Wang Shuo: How Caixin Digs Up In-Depth Stories

There is no secret in how our reporters undertake their investigations. It takes diligence, patience and respect for our sources. Photo: VCG
There is no secret in how our reporters undertake their investigations. It takes diligence, patience and respect for our sources. Photo: VCG

Our colleagues Yu Ning and Wang Heyan were recently invited to share their interview experiences. Both Yu and Wang are particularly skillful interviewers, great at making their interviewees open up. They are the ones that take the projects others might deem daunting and turn them into perfection.

As far as I’ve observed, they both have their own special strategies. Yu does all kinds of stories and is not obsessed with mastering mainstream interview techniques. By virtue of her unique set of skills, she is able to connect her interviewees at a different level compared to other reporters.

Wang mainly focuses on investigative reports in the political and legal fields. Most of her colleagues view such reports as intractable, but she is always able to get the answers she wants. It is almost as if she has some unique secrets that other reporters are unaware of.

In addition to general skills, young reporters also need to learn specialized skills. Therefore, it is necessary for them to take in the experiences shared by these two interview masters.

But after listening to both of them speak, I realized that I had been wrong; there are in fact no big differences between Yu and Wang’s skills, which once again proves that there is no secret to interviews. While listening, I scribbled down the key points they shared.

First, make every effort to find potential interview sources for your story. As the pair shared: “Finding interviewees is not hard, the tricky part is to make them talk.” First of all, we need to map out the different leads and their relationships, and then follow each pathway, gathering clues by interviewing one source after the other. After each interview, the relationship map can be expanded until all avenues are exhausted.

Second, you will need patience and composure when trying to arrange interviews. As is well-known to reporters working on difficult reports, the interviewing process can be filled with setbacks. Being rejected is part and parcel of reporters’ daily work. Many reporters feel so frustrated that they give up their careers, while those who stick with their jobs will face such challenges every day.

One of Yu’s methods is to just pick up the phone and call her interviewees. There is no room for hesitation and if you think too much you might lose your courage. However, maintaining composure and managing anxieties does not come naturally — it requires that journalists learn to manage our emotions and mental state of mind.

Wang deals with the challenge of finding interviewees by putting herself in the interviewees’ shoes. “Reporters are always the ones who bother the interviewees,” Wang said, while adding that interviewees are under no obligation to accept any interviews. Therefore, being rejected by interviewees is quite normal. Being aware of this helps reporters deal with the frustration of being rejected. With this understanding, we can learn to be grateful to those who accept being interviewed and understanding towards those we are rejected by.

Third, remember that there are many reasons why interviewees may accept interviews. It can be because of personal convictions or their own self-interest. It could be a variety of reasons, including that of wanting to release their emotions and pour out their bitterness. That said, only after finding interviewees will we actually know.

Fourth, build mutual trust with interviewees and gradually steer the topic in the right direction. For reporters, the best “letter of introduction” is actually the reporter’s portfolio of work. In most cases, if interviewees know nothing about a reporter or the news organization the reporter works at, they may be unwilling to talk about the topic you want to bring up. In this case, we need to understand interviewees’ wariness, and proactively introduce ourselves and our professional characteristics, to get interviewees to recognize our value. We can talk with interviewees about topics they are interested in and gradually move toward our intended topic. After arriving at our designated topic, we need to make interviewees aware of our value in the information network.

Fifth, show respect towards interviewees. If interviewees have made it clear that they will not accept an interview, we can contact the interviewees one more time. If they still do not accept, we need to respect their decision and not contact them again. It is necessary for reporters to stay in touch with those interviewees who have accepted our interview invitations and regularly pay them visits. This will help minimize the cost of rebuilding the relationship that we have already built.

Wang Shuo is the chief editor of Caixin Media.

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