(Not So) Basic Journalism Skills: The Art of Interviewing

by - August 01, 2013

Interviewing a person for a story isn't a skill most people are born with. Nevertheless, it is a must-have skill in the journalism world. Unfortunately, in today's news atmosphere of gotta have it now, the art of the interview has been all but lost, especially in just-out-of-school reporters.

We've all been conditioned around one word: deadline. And our deadlines are getting earlier and earlier, i.e. we've got to have it before anybody else does. As a result, more and more interviews are just scratching the surface and failing to dig any deeper into the issue. We're getting the basics but nothing more, and unfortunately we're satisfied with that.

As a producer, I see the consequences of skimpy interviews first-hand. It's the one question you're left with at the end of a story; the missing link that ties it all together; the implied and...?

There are some simple steps you can follow to conduct an effective interview. The following are a combination of my advice, advice from other journalists and tips from Forbes.

Don't forget the basics: who, what, when, where, why, and how. Write down questions, but don't ignore what your subject is saying - let your subject lead you. If they say something interesting, ask a follow-up question; it doesn't matter if it's off-topic from your list of questions. Be open-minded about what they have to say; remember, the interview isn't about you - it's about what they have to say.

Take notes, even if you're recording what they're saying. Review your notes and/or listen to the interview as soon as possible, while it's still fresh on your mind.

Make some questions open-ended. It requires your subject to say something other than yes or no.

Ask what you don't know.

Unless there is no other alternative, don't send your questions in advance. The responses you get will be noticeably scripted.

Research, research, research. You've got to know what you're going to be talking about. Knowing your subject will also help eliminate unnecessary questions and really get to the heart of the matter. Being prepared will also clue you in to any fishy answers.

The biggest piece of advice I can give you is to be prepared for people who don't want to talk to you. Don't let it get you down. It doesn't mean you're a bad reporter. Get over it and move on to the next person.

Remember, your stories are only as good as your interviews. If you only devote a minimal amount of time, it will show (quite literally). Leaving your readers/viewers wanting more only works in teases and continues on page 2.

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