Conducting interviews was the hardest aspect of journalism for me as a budding reporter at the age of 14. Now, five years later on my first outing as international reporter, interviews have risen to the top of the list once again.
I don’t think I have had to do anything more difficult and painstaking in my journalistic career than interviewing someone through an interpreter. The process is long, frustrating and feels less genuine than direct interviews.
Tasks that usually take seconds, such as getting down an interviewee’s name, age and neighborhood of residence, become several-minute-long endeavors. This has consistently embarrassed me to a point where I feel guilty for taking up so much of the interviewees’ time on such seemingly small – but necessary – tasks.
Conversations also become much less conversational, as I must allow the translator to listen and then relay the message to me before I can respond. Then I must then record the quote in my notebook while double-checking with the translator that it is a direct quote, and must be ready to backtrack and revise words to more accurate translations.
All the while, I must analyze what the interviewee is saying so that I can ask follow-up questions to get the information I need and get more dynamic quotes. However, with all the other elements of the interview happening at once, this can become nearly impossible.
So far, I would say this has hindered my ability to work. On Sunday, when I was gathering personal narratives from churchgoers for a story, a woman talked briefly about her life in a way that seemed to have a perfect connection to my story. More than anything, I wanted to get more of her story to incorporate into my article.
But my translator (who is not a translator by profession) didn’t fully understand the nuance of the questions I was asking or how to ask them in Greek, and the woman had limited time before she had to re-enter the church for a baptism. I was left with a very shallow version of her story and an overwhelming feeling that I had missed out on something important.
Throughout this process, I have felt powerless: often unable to seek out my own sources, navigate and approach people as an individual or actually talk to people unless they speak English.
My inability to be on the same page and communicate with the people I interview is much more frustrating than I could have imagined before I came to Greece. Still, after facing these hurdles, I know more of what to expect next time I go out to get interviews. I am beginning to learn what it takes to be an international reporter, and I am learning to adapt and problem solve in these situations. Already, I am building so many skills from this experience and I am eager to see what else I will pick up before I depart.