Interviewing is how we get the story. The most current information comes from the person who is living the story.
To get a good interview, you need to prepare. Having questions prepared makes you appear professional and keeps you focused if the interview gets cut off.
- Some questions are obvious - How did the fire happen?
- Others need thought - What happened to that store that was here earlier?
- Think about what your audience wants to know. Who has the answer and what the quickest and best way to get that answer?
- Do your homework 1st. Don't ask an author what the book's about - read it!
- Save your toughest questions for last. Otherwise you risk losing the interview.
Be prepared to listen.
- Show that you're curious about the subject. Even a shy person will open up if you show a genuine interest in what's important to them.
- Don't interrogate - reporters can be scary. But people talk to other people, so be real. Be polite.
- Don't ask questions that can be answered yes or no. Instead, ask How, why, or what? Ask for descriptions. Ask for details.
- Be quiet and listen. Don't interrupt, don't correct, and don't edit. You'll write later.
- Introduce yourself, so the person you're speaking with sees your notebook or tape recorder.
- Don't try to write down every word. Jot down details about the person, surroundings, action, and phrases that strike you as interesting or telling. You can always follow up later for the perfect quote.
- Say, "That's a good point. Let me get it down right" if you need the person you're speaking with to slow down.
- Double-check names, titles, ages, and addresses.
When writing, you may edit someone's speech to leave out "uh" or "um" but don't make up quotes. Use an ellipse (...) to show where you've cut speech. Sometimes, someone may want to speak off the record. This is generally frowned on. Check with your editor for specific cases.
In 1991, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Donald Kennedy wrote, "Quotations allow the reader to form his or her own conclusions and to assess the conclusions of the author, instead of relying entirely upon the author's characterization of his or her subject."
Interviewing not only lets you get the story, it lets people tell their own story and lets the reader decide what they want to hear.
Caution! We tend to interview authority and mainstream figures in the news. Ask yourself:
- Who's missing from the story?
- Have you gotten all sides of the story?
- Where can you go for another point of view on the story?
- What's the unofficial version?