CONFESSIONAL INTERVIEWS: "My true
Notes by Chris Horrie
This format is a great favourite especially of the popular
women's magazines who pay a great deal of money for best sort
The key to the format is a person "confessing" about
some aspect of their private lives. It does NOT mean (necessarily)
confessing in the sense of owning up to a crime or wrong-doing.
It is just somebody relating their personal experience.
"Pegged" confessional pieces would involve a person
talking about their personal experience of some great news
event. Recently there were hundreds of pieces like this with
people talking about how they survived the WTC attack; or how
they reacted to the death of a loved one.
General "human interest" confessionals are not pegged
to anything. Typically they involve health problems - the classics
being "my battle wwith cancer" or "my battle
with alcoholism" or marriage break up or some other trauma.
We would call this "pure human
interest". There's no news peg.
Normally a "confessional" piece
is "ghosted" - meaning that the subject has been
interviewed by a journalist, sometimes at enormous length.
The story is then written up by the journalist, but is put
in the victim's voice. Sometimes the newspaper/magazine will
add "as told to X" in the small type at the bottom.
The tabloids like to use the phrase "opened her heart
to". But the format only really works if the subject is
speaking directly to the reader. There are no ethical problems
with this, so long as the subject has seen the piece and agrees
it is a fair summary of his/her story.
Confessional type journalism is thought to be even stronger
if the person comes through their difficulties and is somehow
better off as a result. These stories are generically known
as "TRIUMPH OVER TRAGEDY" of "TOTs". Women's
magazines in particular love these type of stories.
Obviously if a celeb is involved the material will appeal
to TV watching audience (the tabloids, the down market women's
weeklies). Recent confessionals include Barrymore and
Anne Robinson (Robinson particularly good because it is a CELEBRITY
TOT - sales building material to die for!).
Although the "best" confessionals are now a matter
of chequebook journalism (Max Clifford, eg, selling an exlcusive
with the woman who had eight kids at one go to the highest
bidder) and therefore beyond your resources as a student you
can still do "confessionals" appropriate to less
Research a particular social issue or medical victims group
(eg the homeless, racial attack victims; support groups victims
of some particular illness or other). Internet USE GROUPS are
especially useful for this. Otherwise use the phone book to
get hold of the British Dandruff Sufferers Association (or
whatever). They will normally have a list of sufferers who
are willing to talk to the press (even students).
You then do the interview (you will have coaching on interview
technique) wither for radio or for transcription into print.
You then edit the sound material or write up the story and
show it to them. Do NOT give "copy approval". You
show it to them so they can point out any factual errors or
to hear if they violently object to the way you've told their
story. But YOU are writing the story and must take responsibility
(which is to your readers/listeners - remember them? - and
NOT to the person you are interviewing.
All magazine/radio formats have TV equivalents and in this
case it is Kilroy; Trish; Springer; Oprah (the whole show,
based around the TOT persona of the host) and the Ester Rantzen
This format is very popular in the mass circulation press
and so you are playing for high stakes and dealing with all
the problems of chequebook journalism, hoaxers, mad people,
people with Munchousen syndrome, etc, so you must be careful.
Don't have people confessing to crimes for example. They are
almost certainly lying. Some people will do anything to be "on
the telly" or even have their picture in a newspaper or
It can also be used, however, as part of a "suite" of
features pegged to a news story. So if there's a train crash
there's the news about the crash itself, the news feature about
train crashes over the years, graphic journalism with maps
of the disaster area, and the confessional article from a survivor
- all "packaged" together within a sophisticated
newspaper layout or radio/TV segment.
YOU MUST NORMALLY AVOID WRITING ABOUT PEOPLE WHO YOU KNOW
- BECAUSE OF THE DANGER OF MALICE and/or VESTED INTEREST
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