Here is a list of some (out of many) lessons I learned at Transom:
1. Be present while interviewing.
It sounds obvious, but it is not. Before our first day in the field, Rob said: be present with your full selves when out reporting. I didn’t quite understand what he meant at the time. But one day, after an interview, I noticed I didn’t get something on tape because I’d been too shy to ask. Then, after another interview, I realized I hadn’t asked an important (and quite obvious) question. Why was that? Where was my attention at that moment? As I thought about it, I understood that during the interview I was too preoccupied with trying not to seem weird, too worried about pronouncing words correctly in English (which is my second language), and too concerned with making sure people trust my abilities as a reporter. I don’t blame myself, these are all legitimate preoccupations. But they definitely took me away from the moment. So I’ve made myself a list of priority thoughts I need to have while interviewing: pay full attention to what moves you, be aware of your feelings and other people’s feelings, try to get over your shyness, and be entirely present.
2. Enjoy the silence.
Make the uncomfortable moment your ally: embrace the silence and wait, hold your microphone still, look the person in the eyes. People need time to put their feelings into words. And we need time to listen, to understand and to think about what to ask after. When I was editing this piece, I realized how important silences were to the story — to the point that I had to give up using a beautiful fado (kill your darlings . . .) because the music covered a lot of what the interviewees meant when they were quiet.
3. Share your work until it feels collective.
Nobody does storytelling/reporting alone. We are only able to tell stories because people share their time, their voices and their lives with us. It is, at root, a collective job. So after getting this precious content, we have the enormous responsibility of building a narrative that is true to what we’ve heard and known. And sharing our drafts, seeing people’s reactions and being open to their feedback is a fundamental part of the process. Your work will get so much better for it.
4. Be ready to change.
To me, what is most exciting about this profession is its unpredictability. Of course you should always have a plan, but the truth is you will only know what the story is once you go and talk to people. And then, chances are you will have to be flexible. Because the story might be something different from what you have imagined, or you might discover a new (and better) path for it, or an interviewee might cancel at the last minute and you will have to figure out what to do. For all of that: be ready to change plans, and to fall in love all over again with your new story.
About Giovana’s Sonic ID
I met Stephen during the Cape Cod Marathon in Woods Hole. He was super busy coordinating the volunteers, making sure everyone had water ready for the participants, and all of that. But I noticed he wouldn’t miss a runner, he would clap at every one who passed by.