The Media School

The struggle of interviewing through a mask – making genuine relationships

March 25th, 2021 by

Nearly one year ago IU moved classes online and sent students home in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. While we are back on campus now, the effects still linger for journalists.

In March 2020 my reporting classes insisted that all interviewing be conducted virtually. So, this semester, the opportunity to interview students on campus excited me. I stood outside Sample Gates with a Canon 80D hanging around my neck, and the audio recorder ready on my phone.

However, my enthusiasm was not matched by the students. As a journalist the biggest challenge I faced while reporting was finding eager and acceptable interviewees.

Overall, there are fewer students wandering campus than before the pandemic. Sample Gates used to have a constant flow of passerby, but now only a handful of students walked past in an hour.

I received more “no’s” then I can recall.

A few students stared directly at the ground and accelerated their pace. One who saw me approaching instantly and intensely shook her head. Another removed an AirPod just to tell me he did not have time to answer my questions.

While interviewing, journalists must follow the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations. They require that both parties wear a mask and maintain a 6-foot distance. As a result, I had to conduct an assessment of each passerby before pursuing.

Since those without a mask were not acceptable participants, over half of the already-small pool of passerby were eliminated.

But not all were unacceptable or unresponsive participants. Some students were willing to partake and adhered to CDC recommendations.

“Although the virus has changed the way we interact with sources, I learned that in-person interviews are still valuable and genuine relationships can still develop.”

The five students who did agree to be interviewed were enthusiastic and offered valuable, honest opinions. I was thankful for their participation and felt the adoration of journalism that eroded when interviewing was all-online. But the streak of rejection lingered in my mind.

My emotions transitioned from eagerness into frustration, and finally, into social consciousness.

Before the pandemic, I never hesitated to approach someone. But several students wore N95 masks, which made me waver on whether to engage with them. I feared offending them or making them feel uncomfortable.

The best part of journalism, for me, is the personal interaction during interviews. This interaction has been diluted. Even in-person interviews are less intimate now since the interviewer and interviewee no longer exchange visible smiles or shake hands.

While it may seem like life is gradually returning to normal, the social effects of the pandemic will persist for years. But journalists have adapted and become more creative while reporting.

Although the virus has changed the way we interact with sources, I learned that in-person interviews are still valuable and genuine relationships can still develop.

Reporting may look a little different, but the field of journalism persisted through the pandemic.