"The most moving part about a character is the completeness and truthfulness of his or her story." Up Media's Senior Reporter Chen Te-Yu shared her journalistic experience and personal insights as a Profile Reporter.
What motivated you to enter the world of profile interviews?
I started working as a journalist after graduating from university. Because of family issues, I left the industry for about ten years. When I got back to journalism, real-time news became the latest trend. It is a form of news that emphasises the rapid movement of information delivered in short articles. I believed that I was not suitable for this type of communication. Then, by chance, I joined Up Media, a recently-established online media outlet at that time. Up Media centres on investigative reports and operates in a way close to producing weekly journals rather than instant news. We went beyond the run-of-the-mill news model by doing profile interviews. In an era of instant news, Up Media was moving in the opposite direction. We believe that story writing and investigative reporting are somewhat distinguishable works because they are so personal and often tied to journalists' creative abilities. It's different from real-time news that is labour intensive but easy to be replicated. It is why I joined Up Media as a senior journalist interviewing people.
Can you briefly introduce your new book? Which story impressed you the most?
This book is a collection of interview reports I have published. Every story is very unforgettable for me. Take the brave Taiwanese girl Phoebe Ko
as an example. She had already passed away when I wrote her story, which meant that I was exploring her past. Phoebe’s mother wanted to publish a book about her little girl’s life, so she contacted me. When writing her story, I listened to her favourite song and tried to feel her emotions when she was struggling so hard to live her life and spending every day suffering. After Phoebe’s right hand was amputated, her body's nerves stayed in the state of being cut off, so the nerves kept reminding her of the pain. It is impossible to forget what Phoebe has gone through.
How do you select your interviewees?
The most critical rule is that people must be willing to share their feelings with me - the most moving part about a character is the completeness and truthfulness of their story. Only when the interviewee is ready to show their inner feelings can the character be integrated and authentic. For example, even if an entrepreneur shares a frustrating investment experience, the story still does not sound genuine enough. However, the interviewee can go deeper by expressing how unhappy and sad they were or how they could not eat well for two weeks after the incident. We genuinely want to achieve this: readers understand the interviewee’s feelings through the journalist’s article. When the reader can truly feel the emotions of the interviewee, the piece is a success. I will always choose to interview and write about a sincere person, regardless of their fame and social class.
What is your No. 1 code of ethics in journalism?
Youth Literary once invited me to be a writing lecturer at the Youth Literary Writing Seminar. The organiser helped me set a seminar topic: A Reporter Without a Voice Recorder, as I never use any voice recording devices during interviews. My interviews usually take a relatively long time, and I always listen to my interviewees carefully, so they trust me. They would open up to me, sharing their stories with me without a doubt. If I use a recorder, they might not be so relaxed or comfortable. And being an attentive listener, I will remember the details even if I do not use a recorder.
To guide the interviewees to tell their stories, I often tell them that some parts of the whole story are not causing too much harm to themselves and make the entire story sound more logical and complete. Most people care about whether things they told me would hurt the feelings of those who are close to them. I once interviewed an advertising queen
for a total of 10 hours in three days. In the end, she even shared a secret that she never told her husband - she is losing her sight because of a degenerative genetic problem. The reason for not telling him is that he will be worried about his business.
Of course, I would ask one more question out of respect “Are there any personal things you don’t want others to know” to make sure they are confidential.
Tips for PRs - how should PR practitioners cooperate with you?
I always welcome exclusive interview collaborations with PRs from different industries, including startups or government institutions. However, PRs usually reach out to journalists covering specific industries but rarely come across profile journalists. Most of my content collaborations with PRs happen through shared contacts with interviewees. For example, my exclusive interview with Albert Liu
, the founder of Taiwan's biggest online game publisher Gamania Digital Entertainment Co., was made possible via a mutual friend.
However, PRs don't always familiarise themselves with their clients. I personally hope that in the future, more PRs know how to tell a story themselves. Take selling pineapple cakes as an example. Apart from just saying the pastry is delicious, you could also use storytelling to make everyone understands it and feel the way you do.
Tips for new profile journalists?
I think profile journalists should have an intense curiosity about people and are willing to witness different life experiences. We write with our hearts instead of our hands. You are what you write. Everybody can write the same story differently. That’s why I think having empathy is crucial.