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What's the longest interview you've ever done?

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by write then drink, Mar 6, 2009.

  1. i need to take a break from reading about furloughs, papers closing, good people losing their jobs and slimy execs getting paid holidays on exotic islands

    we don't do enterprise anymore. no room.

    but back in the glory days, maybe six years ago, i did a four-part series, with each main bar running about 35 inches and sidebars of 16-18 inches, plus graphs, charts, pull-out quotes, the works.

    my boss gave me a ton of time to work on it. i interviewed probably 20 people, but the main subject of the series i had two interviews with - one about three hours, the other about 90 minutes

    how about you? what's the longest interview you've done - for a story, a book, magazine ... whatever
  2. Lollygaggers

    Lollygaggers Member

    In college one of my assignments for a class was to do a story on the Passion of the Christ movie coming out, just to get different people's take on it. I went to the local Muslim mosque and interviewed the "director." He wasn't a religious leader at the place, but kind of oversaw things and dealt with the public.

    After about 90 minutes of talking and taking a tour of the building, I had been exposed to the entire history of Islam and every key difference between it and Christianity. Being a Christian, it was hard to bite my tongue and not argue most of the points and instead just sit there and listen and ask follow up questions. I can't even remember what he said about the movie.
  3. Batman

    Batman Well-Known Member

    For the purposes of this thread, we should discount those "day in the life stories" since they're basically a 12-hour interview.

    For "normal" stories, I've had plenty of long features where the main interview lasted an hour or so. Our state's sports hall of fame used to have its induction banquet in our town, and we'd run long features on all the inductees leading up to the big night. The hall of fame gave us plenty of background and contact information on each person, and it'd be easier NOT to spend two hours with some of those folks than to cram everything you wanted to ask into 15 minutes.
  4. Clerk Typist

    Clerk Typist Guest

    Four hours with a guy who was awarded the Silver Star in World War II, and that was only a small part of his life.
  5. Mark2010

    Mark2010 Active Member

    A journalism prof once told me that you should be able to get a person's life story in 30 minutes.

    Well, this past month alone, I've done two 45-minute interviews with subjects for "life and times" type of features: one was 28 inches, the other was 40. Both could have been longer.

    I can't imagine doing more than an hour interview at a time with one person. I've done interviews on bus trips that were broken up into several parts that maybe went longer combined.

    Chances are if you're doing a book, you'd want to do a series of interviews over time, not just one session.
  6. friend of the friendless

    friend of the friendless Active Member

    Sirs, Madames,

    Four hours with Morley Callaghan (for non-Canadians and Canadians not of a certain age, a somewhat-forgotten Toronto novelist and short storiest whose work appeared in the New Yorker). Forty-five minutes wouldn't have got you out of Paris in the 20s, back when he boxed Ernest Hemingway, counted as his friends from Paris in the Fitzgerald and "Jimmy Joyce" ("so much fun and laughter, nothing like the sourpuss they make him out to be"). I found one 90 minute casette from it the other day ... I hope it isn't demagnetized but I'm not optimistic.

  7. tonysoprano

    tonysoprano Member

    My favorite interviews were the ones I split into multiple days. I'd go in with a set of questions one day, get those answered. Come home, transcribe. Think of more. Go back the next day. My goodness, it was so fun.

    One that does stick out - Once talked to a high school soccer player who got shot 6 times coming home from a date and lived.
  8. Four and a half hours with the parents of a dead soldier.
  9. playthrough

    playthrough Moderator Staff Member

    For a book I wrote there was one primary source that had a hand in 30 years of history that I was covering. We had a standing appointment for months in which I'd see him once a week in his office; every time I'd come ready with a different topic to discuss and we'd go for an hour or two.

    He had been retired for a long time but was one of those guys who still had an office but it was pretty much just a place to get mail and make a few calls. I knew that on the days I interviewed him, he was only coming in for that. And he was so excited to talk to me every single time. Not long after I stopped talking to him, he died. In a very small way I wonder if I was helping him stick around.
  10. In Exile

    In Exile Member

    Interviewed two guys for a book about a very complicated event for a total of more than seventy hours over the course of about a year. About 1/3 in person, the rest over the phone, and then another 20-30 hours with another ten or twelve people about the same event.
  11. RickStain

    RickStain Well-Known Member

    During a summer internship, I did a story on a guy whose life went as follows:

    Join the Navy for WWII, go to sub school and work on nuclear subs.
    Get out of Navy, go to law school, become one of the top intellectual-property lawyers in the country and argue before the Supreme Court nine times.
    Retire, take over in-laws' family farm and convert it so that you can spend your time breeding and running race horses.

    It's startling in your early 20s, when you think your life is full of possibilities, to realize you are in the room with someone whose life undoubtedly is cooler than yours will be. And fun. He was such a cool interview.
  12. Sneed

    Sneed Guest

    That's the opposite of what I've heard. I've heard 30 minutes is the absolute minimum you can spend with someone, and rarely, if ever, only talk to the subject of your story.

    My longest interview....there've been a few. One was three hours one day and an hour the next day with the hero of a national championship team. The other was with a detective who tracked down some information about a former high school buddy of his who went MIA in Vietnam. Talked with him on the phone for an hour, in person for two one day and for an hour the next day.

    Some of the most fun I've ever had.
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