Jordan Green: Writing a Q&A
There's a lot more to writing a news article than simply asking people questions and typing their answers into the computer.
In this edition of the Journal-Tribune, I have written a question-and-answer articles, more commonly known as a Q&A. The article features two candidates for the Braman Board of Trustees, which is the town's governing board.
This year, Braman has two municipal offices up for grabs, and the campaign trail is heating up. We featured both candidates for one of the offices this week, and we will feature the candidates for the other office next week.
The purpose of the Q&As is to help voters make an informed decision at the ballot box. On April 2, voters will have to pick two individuals to represent them on the town board. By asking these candidates what they hope to do if they are elected, the people of Braman will have the knowledge they need when they go vote.
Here at the J-T, our goal is to make it easier for you to get that information; in other words, we do the hard work for you.
Like any news article, there are several steps to writing a Q&A. Let's talk about how we do that.
The first step to writing a Q&A for an election is to contact each candidate in order to set up an interview. An interview can be conducted in-person, via telephone, or via email, depending upon what works with a person's schedule. The way in which information is obtained is less important than the information itself, so any way will do.
The second step is to decide what information people need to know. For this election, I spoke to Braman residents who told me their top concerns: the city's infrastructure, the city's economy, and the city's public safety departments. From there, I formulated a list of questions that each candidate was asked to answer. Each candidate was asked the exact same questions, allowing voters to better compare the candidates.
The third step is to interview the candidates. When I interview political candidates, I use a pen and paper to take brief notes, and I use my phone to record the candidate's responses. Why? To ensure that I write the correct information -- and to ensure that nobody tries to back-track on what they said after the article comes out. (If a candidate sends responses via e-mail, I print the email to achieve the same goal.)
The fourth step is to transcribe the interview. From the recordings, I type out every word the candidate says. That's time-consuming, though it isn't that difficult. The fifth step -- the hardest part -- is editing what the candidate says.
Like any other humans, political candidates can get a little off-topic. Sometimes, they're not always clear about what they're saying when speaking face-to-face with other people. In order to fix this, confusing quotes are carefully revised for grammar, punctuation, and clarity. This makes the information more understandable and accessible to you, the reader. The candidates' remarks are also edited for length in order to ensure that no candidate gets to say more than another. For this Q&As, I aimed to give each candidate a word limit of around 900. However, there is a little room for variance there -- getting every person to hit the same number of words is nearly impossible (some will talk more, some will talk less). This ensures that each candidate has an equal opportunity to say what needs to be said.
Once the candidate's responses are edited, the story is double-checked not only for grammar, but also for accuracy. The best way to do that is to listen to the recording all over again. Right from the start.
Finally, after the candidates' responses are typed and edited, the story is filed away, ready to be placed on the page and sent to the printer.
As you can see, asking the questions is really one of the easier steps to the reporting process. It's the behind-the-scenes work that not only takes the most time, but also has the biggest impact on the story. How could we write an article without setting up an interview? How could we know what to ask without doing a little bit of digging? What if we didn't double-check our work?
In the era of “fake news,” people seem to think we journalists just make things up. We don't. As you can see, we work hard to provide you with the information you need in a way that you can understand. Yes, we make mistakes. But if you think that you've never made a blunder of your own, I'd like to see your nose. I bet it's longer than Pinocchio's.
My goal in writing this column is to give insight into the process of news-gathering. Hopefully, you have a better understanding of the work we journalists do and how detail-oriented our work truly is. More importantly, I hope I've shown you that the news you read is written with one goal in mind: to provide useful information to you in the best way possible.
We journalists are humans -- humans trying to help other humans.
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