The most amazing interview...that almost didn't happen
A 95-year-old Maine man beats a rabid fox to death with a wooden club. You KNOW that's going to be a good story. But what if that 95-year-old Maine man has no interest in doing an interview?
I saw the headline in a local paper and knew this rabid fox attack was the obvious story for the day. Making it even more newsworthy: there have been 3 rabid animal attacks in this town in the last three weeks, which is very rare. I pitched three story ideas to my editors in the morning, and they quickly wrote back, "Oh I think you know which one we like." Rabid fox attack it is.
I called Robert Galen around 9 a.m. and asked if we could come by and interview him about the fox. His first response was that he already gave a detailed interview to the Times Record newspaper. Fair enough. But I explained to him that we are a broadcast news operation, and we can't use interviews other outlets did. He then told me that he was happy to talk on the phone, but did not want to be on camera.
This is actually something TV reporters encounter A LOT -- and for a variety of reasons. "I'm camera shy." "I don't like how I look today." "I'm running late." "I'll say the wrong thing." In Galen's case, he simply didn't want the attention. The newspaper article was starting to spread, and he didn't want to give himself any more "publicity." Based on our phone call, I could tell he would have been a phenomenal interview. So how could I convince him to change his mind?
The first thing I do in these situations is try to understand WHY they're saying no. Hear them out, and let them explain what their concerns and hesitations are. Then address those specific concerns. In this case, I emphasized the greater good and public service he could do by sharing his story. If people hear about how he defended himself against a rabid animal, they may take the threat of rabies more seriously -- be extra vigilant, get their pets vaccinated, and consider what they'd do in his situation. Galen seemed to understand... but still said no to the interview. I told him the story and interview would be short, and we wouldn't focus on just him -- we'd be interviewing Animal Control and talking about other rabies cases, too. He still said no. But because he was so friendly, I decided to try something I haven't done before. I said, "How about I stop over, meet you in person, discuss the story a little bit more -- and then you can give me your final answer about an interview?" He paused. Sighed. Then said "I guess that's okay. You are rather convincing." Maybe he meant relentless... but I was just glad he didn't say no.
I took a little bit of a risk by going there. If I drove out there and he still said no, I would have wasted valuable time that I could have spent working on a different story. I was also running the risk of becoming annoying. Pushing someone too hard can really backfire -- and they'll just shut you out completely. But because Galen already gave an interview to the paper, and seemed very chatty on the phone, I had some hope he'd eventually go on camera.
Thirty minutes after our phone call, we pulled up into his driveway and started to take a look around his property. He showed me his backyard, the wooden club he used to kill the fox, and before we knew it, we were recording an interview! There was no debate, no hesitation... the conversation just flowed naturally. And just like I thought it would be -- his interview was phenomenal.
No one told me in journalism school that I'd have to learn to be such a sales person. But there is an art to convincing someone to talk to you -- and it changes with every person, and every story.
So thank you, Robert Galen, for giving me your time and sharing your story. I hope you don't hate all the extra attention. You are awesome.