I’ll be honest. Unless it’s for something fun I hate doing vox pops. But sometimes they’re a necessary evil.
Vox populi – ‘Voice of the People’ (or for broadcasting new-starters often considered ‘a boring painful waste of time’)
Though overused and sometimes a symptom of lazy journalism, the humble vox pop has its place in broadcasting and is a basic tool that is here to stay.
I’ve had the honour (?!) of dispatching many a student on work experience to go and grab a vox pop. It’s amazing how much of an impression you can make by either doing one really well, or really badly.
But rather than list what makes a vox good or bad (because that depends on exactly what the subject and brief is), below are some tips for getting started with one in the first place that tend to work for me.
So often I’ve seen people meekly approach members of the public who mostly keep walking, and when they do stop are put off by the way what’s about to happen is sold to them. An hour later the poor vox-popper will still be standing in the cold.
Depending on the topic and how many people are about, you should be able to easily grab what you need in 10-20 minutes.
1. It’s all about the approach. I’ll let myself explain…
2. Get straight in with the question
I know that on many media and journalism courses across the country the ‘method’ of getting into a vox is taught as something along the lines of…
– Ask a member of the public if they can spare a moment
– Explain where you’re from
– Explain the subject you are covering and see if they have an opinion on the matter
– Ask if they’re willing to be recorded
– Hit record, ask them the question again, record the answer
Don’t do this. You want to get to the point where you’re recording a decent answer as quickly as possible, otherwise you’re just wasting time.
After getting someone’s attention, you want to be straight in there with “I’m from x, and I’m just asking everyone around here what they think about dog’s shoes”, by which point you’re already recording (because you pressed record as you approached them) with the microphone in their face.
However – once you’ve recorded something that you think could be broadcast, you need to be confident that the person you’ve recorded understands what they need to. For most people having a microphone in their face is explanation enough that they’re being recorded, and by saying as you leave “thank you, that’ll be part of x programme at x time” is generally enough.
There’s no reason you can’t be both quick (almost ruthless) with a vox but also entirely professional and polite throughout.
3. Don’t make them feel singled out
Point #2 contained a really key line. When I say to someone “I’m from x, and I’m just asking everyone around here what they think about dog’s shoes”, a vital part of that is ‘everyone around here’.
By mentioning that you’re asking ‘everyone’, I’ve found a distinct difference in people’s concern at suddenly being asked a question on tape. They tend to immediately grasp that they’re not being singled out and that they’re just adding to a pile of opinion.
If there’s still concern on their face, a follow up of “don’t worry, I don’t need your name or anything” tends to alleviate their worries.
4. Milk the good ones (not literally)
So often I’ve heard the raw recording of a vox someone’s done for me where they’ve got a great speaker, who hasn’t quite worded their answer right. And it’s unusable.
If you’ve got someone with a strong opinion and who’s stopped to talk to you, make the most of them. Don’t be afraid to ask the same question twice. Three times. Four. Don’t worry about wasting their time – they’ll tell you if that’s the case.
Don’t be afraid to guide them with tricks like “repeat after me and finish the sentence: ‘I like dog’s shoes because'”. So long as you’re not guiding their thoughts or putting words in their mouth there’s nothing wrong with pursuing the same question until you have them voicing their opinion in the clearest and strongest way.
And while we’re at it, here’s everything a vox pop shouldn’t be.
It was created as some sort of jokey test vox when Radio Lincolnshire launched, broadcast for fun on the station’s first birthday.