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17. Chats or participatory interviews?

Interactivity, proximity and audience involvement : these qualities linked to the web find their meaning in the exercise consisting in putting together journalists and web users. Live chats and participatory interview are fresh ways to do so.

The art of the interview

The Internet’s participatory dimension allows for the creation of new editorial platforms where the reader is integral to newsmaking. This “moderated participatory” newsmaking can occur at various levels :

  • When choosing the interviewee, for example by polling the audience during the editorial meeting.
  • During the interview, by asking the audience to send questions before it starts.
  • During the interview, by letting the audience freely express their reactions to the interviewee’s answers.

None of this means you should not respect web-appropriate formats :

  • For a written interview, no more than 6000 signs is reasonable.
  • For an audio interview, choose one-minute long sound bytes at most. They need to sum up the key moments of the interview and you need to put up a transcript, so as not to force your reader to listen to the interview (sometimes it’s hard to listen to audio on your computer, at work for example).
  • For a video interview, no more than three-minutes long extracts, and no more than three extracts (same reasons as for audio).

Finally you can try leaving the entirety of an interview up for perusal, however long it is. It might make web users most interested in the interviewee/the topic happy, but most of all it shows the editing job you’ve done. It’s a useful exercise in transparency.

Chat tools

Chat tools in journalisms are used as an interactive interview platform moderated by journalists, usually in the newsroom. It’s some kind of mixed interview, with questions both from the newsroom and web users. There are various techniques :

  • The easiest one consists in pre-selecting questions (ask your readers 24 hours before the interview takes place), to transcribe the interviewee’s an answer and select new questions once the interview is taking place. One or two journalists can do that.
  • Another option: use the same process, but film the interviewee’s answers, which are then edited and put online with a transcripts. At least three journalists are needed for each task.
  • The hardest option consists in doing the same things, but with live retransmission, thanks to platforms such as Seesmic’s.

Moderating interactivity is essential if you want your live chat to succeed, both to valorize your reader’s questions and the journalists’ hard work.