Award-winning storyteller Belinda Lopez has spent her career asking a lot of questions. Her longform interviews have found their way into the many essays, podcasts, audio documentaries, and multimedia projects that she has produced for ABC Radio National, the Sydney Morning Herald, and international outlets.
Ahead of Belinda’s course on Deep-Dive Interviewing at Writing NSW, we asked her a few quick questions.
You’ve published writing and audio documentaries from all over Australia and the world. What is the power of an interview to gain access to stories across boundaries?
Interviews are the foundation of the best narrative journalism. Discovering a person’s story through deep-dive interviewing allows us to transcend an ‘issue’ and understand actual human experience. We’re also less polarising when we listen to each other. An interview is an exchange. It provides the nuance you don’t get when you’re typing angrily into the ether. That’s a big reason podcasts have taken off—we’re craving that so much.
Are there any interviews you’ve done that have shaped the way you think about interviewing now?
Every interview shapes you in some way. I’ll never forget the series of ‘pre-interviews’ I did with an American mother about her young son being incarcerated, and learning first hand what jail does to a child. Her story was heartbreaking, and there was a need to build trust before she was ready to talk on the record about the systematic problems in the justice system. It confirmed for me how valuable it is to put the work in long before you press record.
Who are your favourite interviewers?
I will go as low-brow or high-brow as I need to for interview #inspo. Have you ever analysed an Oprah interview? She makes her subjects feel as though magic is coming out of their mouths—and it becomes something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. I also like hardcore investigative journalists who don’t present that way—like Sarah Koenig, Kate McClymont, and Sarah Stillman. Their work is so badass and thorough but on a personal level they seem really approachable and curious. Some people could underestimate them—that’s their secret weapon. And my Mum is a great interviewer though she’s never ever worked in media. I call her interviewing technique ‘the web of knowledge’—she used it to extract everything out of me as a teenager and it’s a strategy I now use with loved ones and interview subjects alike.