The interior of Ziferblat.
The interior of Ziferblat.

Diary of a Young Reporter: How to Cope with Equipment Flub and Awkward Silence

Sometimes the best moments in an interview follow awkward silences.

I must have spent a good two minutes untangling my headphones as my source, Sophie, sat patiently, fiddling with a clip on the kitchen table in the café. “Do you need a moment to set up?” she asked. I insisted it would only take a second to adjust the settings on my audio recorder. To think, an hour earlier I was busy foolproofing my production plan, making sure my interview questions were ready and that I had everything I’d need to record material for a podcast. Although I was thoroughly prepared, at that moment while coaxing my equipment to cooperate, I didn’t feel like a hotshot reporter.

Here’s some background: For my class on multimedia journalism, I had to create a brief radio news feature complete with interviews and sound effects. While scrolling through Buzzfeed, I read about a pay-per-minute café in London called Ziferblat. Food and coffee were free, but customers had to pay for the time they spent there. It was an interesting business model that considered the fact that people go to cafés for the atmosphere or to hangout or get work done using the WiFi, not necessarily for the coffee and pastries. I wanted to interview the Ziferblat staff and customers about the creative community that it attracts and why the time-based payment scheme works. For two weeks I tried contacting the staff for an interview. Eventually, I got a reply, and that same day I made the trip to Ziferblat.

Generally, I’m a shy person. I mean, I like meeting new people, but I’m not the best at holding small talk. Luckily, my source was very welcoming and understanding. After untangling my headphones, setting up my recorder, and pulling out my notebook, I started the interview. From there, it went relatively smoothly.

Sophie is the team leader at Ziferblat. I asked her questions about the conception of this unique project, company culture, and what problems they were encountering. As she explained the potential of Ziferblat, she gestured like a conductor cuing a symphony. As the interview progressed, I shed my shyness, thankful to be hearing an awesome story from such an interesting person. Great stories are what motivate me to become a reporter.

Later, I recorded ambient sound around the space. It felt unnatural, carrying around a large microphone recorder to capture noises such as pouring water or the smooth jazz music that played in the background. I even captured someone cutting bread, all in the hope of representing the space through sound. After that, I went around the room to get vox pops from customers, asking why they visited the “free space.” I was a little afraid of interrupting people as they worked or relaxed, but surprisingly they were happy to help me out with my assignment. At the end of the day, I had everything I needed.

Before this project, I had never created an audio journalism piece. Usually when I interview someone, it’s like a conversation. For this story, however, I had to operate differently to capture the subject’s complete, uninterrupted thoughts so that I’d have clean audio to work with. It was strange to sit and just wait for the other person until I was absolutely sure they had finished answering a question, but I learned to listen more deeply, use nonverbal communication, and to allow the person to pause for a second to collect their thoughts without interjecting.

Listen to the audio story below: