Interview as a Method and its Application in Journalism
In this paper I will chiefly describe the general techniques of interviewing and then compare journalistic and sociological interviewing methods drawing on my own experience, which I gained while working as a foreign correspondent in Germany for the Companion Business Journal, Ukraine. I used to interview people from the business environment, for instance managers of middle-size enterprises on their strategies of competitiveness and survival. The gathered data was highly qualitative in nature.
In my view interviewing for both sociology and journalism is very much similar, so my main part will be devoted to description of commonalities and the concluding remarks will then accentuate possible differences. In other words, the provided descriptions will apply to both fields until otherwise stated.
In the past the interview tended to be regarded as simply a means of collecting factual information from respondents, and by itself, of little interest. But nowadays there is an understanding that the quality of the data is important for precision, and thus it is crucial to be able to assess the validity and reliability of information by understanding the nature of the interview as a collection instrument. Interview is a social encounter to which both parties bring expectancies, beliefs and experiences, so without knowledge of these and their interplay, it is impossible to comprehend its internal social dynamics.
In general the interview is an encounter between a researcher (interviewer) and a respondent (interviewee); the latter is asked a series of questions relevant to the research subject. Respondent’s answers constitute a raw material to be analyzed. An interview contains questions (verbal stimuli) designed to elicit response. Interview in sociology may be both a quantitative and qualitative method.
The objective of sociological interview is to obtain information from a person representing a wider category of people relevant to the research. They should be selected through some selection criteria. The gathered verbal data collected in the interview can be considered as an adequate substitute for observation of the object over a long period of time. The foundations of interviewing lie in the assumption that individuals can report adequately about social aspects of their lives (subjective states (attitudes, beliefs), relationships with others, etc.).
The most common criterion for classifying interviews is in terms of their degree of standardization (concerning the content and order of the questions). Thus in the structured interview all the respondents have to go along the same lines to ensure that possible variations in replies do not depend on order in which questions were put, as the question asked early in the interview may affect answers to subsequent questions. It is also necessary to ensure that all respondents understand questions in the same way.
In the unstructured (non-standardized) interview questions may be put in whatever way interviewers think appropriate in the circumstances. It may almost amount to conversation and can be useful where highly sensitive issues are covered and long and informal responses are required to understand the matters. It also allows testing different lines of questioning. Thus Merton and Kendall conclude that the structured interview differs from unstructured mainly in the degree in which the interview is controlled by the interviewer.
Between the two extremes is a large category of semi-structured interviews, which combine the advantages of both. Here the interviewer is required to put specific questions but is free to probe beyond them. The use of the standardized format for ‘face sheet’ information and the unstandardized sections to elicit more qualitative information seems to be a popular practice.
Each type of an interview is designed with a particular task in mind. The non-standardized type is most suitably used in exploratory studies where little is known about the topic. This way a small group may be interviewed quite informally with an intention of gaining useful guidance for the construction of more profound interviews. But there is a limit to which such interviews can be used with larger samples, since they may consume much time and money. Therefore, where large samples are necessary in sociology, the structured interviews provide a number of advantages, as they are cheaper in money and time and easier to process. The potentially quantitative form of standardized interviews makes them useful in hypothesis testing, (that is, checking the validity of initial assumptions in journalism).
In sociology interviews may be used in surveys. For instance, the ‘factual survey’ aims at collecting facts about population conditions and the ‘attitude survey’ seeks to assess people’s attitudes as a guide to their likely behavior (attitude questionnaires). For these purposes respondents are selected according to some sampling procedure to be representative of, inter alias, some group or attribute. Each of the sample members will then be interviewed and the results compared for differences, if any, in the replies from each of the sample collections .
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- Oleksandr Svyetlov (Author), 2001, Interview as a Method and its Application in Journalism, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/1491