Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Day 56: Science Media

There was definitely an overwhelming theme to today's work - Media. More specifically, media and science.

A lot of the researchers are leaving at the start of August, which gives me less than a week to get some of the interviews conducted for my podcast, Avioyok. The goal of my podcast is to translate specialist scientific knowledge that each of the researchers conducting their studies at CNSC have into something that the public can understand. As my ecology professor said, referring to studying for exams, you should know each topic well enough to be able to fully explain it to your grandmother in one sentence. I don't mean give the basics of the topic, but to really understand the meaning behind the concepts that the technical words for the concepts aren't needed. I'm trying to get the complex research down to the one sentence that will eloquently explain the entire project. I'm trying to do this while still having fun with the interviews, making the researchers I'm interviewing feel comfortable, make it a learning experience for the people I'm interviewing (since they are students that may never have had a real interview before, but if they stay in science, will probably be interviewed many more times).

And I'm also trying to follow a journalistic ethical code that I think is lacking in normal interviews. The main one here is transparency. Too many reporters will interview a scientist just to get the one quote of "toxic cyanobacteria bloom in the lake" without understanding any of the context. They come into the interview with a story already written rather than discovering the real story that the scientist has to offer. In transparency, I want to make sure my intentions are stated up front. This means that I give the person I will be interviewing a letter that describes the exact nature of my project, gives a sample of questions that may be asked in the interview (before the interview so the researcher has some time to think about it), that the researcher is free to participate or drop out of the project at any time so I won't be able to use his/her voice if he/she decides not to be part of it anymore, and the inclusion of the researcher in the process of the creation of the story, sharing a copy of the transcript of the actual interview, and letting them see/hear the edited piece before I give it to the public so they can get a sense of whether what they said is being used out of context. These are constraints I place on myself to keep me honest and to keep me working towards the real story rather than the story I thought I saw in my head. Of course, it is always risky to allow the person you are interviewing to see the project before the public does, I mean, what if the researcher hates it? But in this situation the transcript can back me up because it is truly what is said, giving me the argument for the story I chose. This is a system that protects both the person being interviewed and the interviewer. This podcast will be my test to see if this philosophy could actually work.

So today was the first day of interviews. I woke up at 5:30 to hop on a bike and get out to the field by 6 AM with yellow warbler researcher, Vanya. I had my mic hooked up to my backpack and just kept asking Vanya questions as we walked and biked from nest site to nest site. It was more of a continuous stream of questions that I was simply curious about, rather than an interview. I'm glad he put up with me!
Yellow Warbler chick!

A young arctic fox sat right in front of us, eating possibly one of the yellow warbler chicks, and then ran right up to us, just a few feet away as though we weren't even there, until it lolloped away across the tundra!

I followed up the field interview with an indoor interview. I had to do this just to make sure that I actually had some good audio data. Recording anything outdoors, even if it isn't windy as it wasn't today - unusual in Churchill - is always a huge risk in quality. By the time I was done, I had a solid 3 hours of audio from Vanya which I will need to edit down to something closer to 20 minutes! That task is daunting!

I took a break from my own interviews after the morning only to find out that there was a production crew at the Centre to interview LeeAnn and the science staff to learn about the work they do. I was going out with Jessica to help her with her lake samples in the afternoon and this production crew was going to come out with us as well! I knew I wasn't going to be interviewed myself as the field assistant, but I also knew that even if they are using Jessica's stuff as background footage, they would probably want to know what Jessica's research is. So I chatted with Jessica to help her develop the short explanation of her project - that one sentence, 10 second thing. From experience, I have found that if you let the person interviewing control the messages of the interview, the real story will be lost. As the scientist being interviewed, the best defense against this is to develop that one message that you can share, so the reporter can only use this message without being able to cut it short or misunderstand it. You have to direct the interview to the story you have, not the other way around. So when we were out in the field doing the sampling, of course, they did ask Jessica the question - what are you studying. I'm glad we talked about it because she did so well explaining the project!

That was the afternoon, which left the evening open for two more interviews with two members of the Godwit crew, Andy and Madi who leave on Thursday! Back to back 1 hour interviews! It was a more formal interview style in a classroom where I asked similar questions to both of them. It was really interesting to hear how the two of them responded completely differently to the same questions, same facts, but a slightly different style and take on the events. I still have Hope and Hannah to interview before they leave next week to complete the crew that are still up here. I also want to interview the grad student who hired the crew, Nate, but that will probably wait till the fall and be a phone interview.

I'm so glad to have finally done some interviews before people left for the summer. I was getting a bit nervous that I wouldn't actually have any audio from this summer, but I suddenly have 5 hours worth! And having done the interviews, I'm starting to think that I really can pull this off!


  1. Hi

    I read this post 2 times. It is very useful.

    Pls try to keep posting.

    Let me show other source that may be good for community.

    Source: Research specialist interview questions

    Best regards

  2. I'm glad that you found this post useful! More media related posts will come soon as the podcast nears the final stages of development so stay tuned!