One of the essential skills for all journalists to master is the interview. The opportunity to gather first hand information, to ask questions and to find the angle at which to attack a story. This was the subject of our weekly lecture, as we learnt exactly what to do and what to avoid while engaging with an interview subject.
It pays to be wary when going into an interview that the public tends to have a distorted view of journalists as a result of their portrayal in popular media and off colour representation. To make your best impression on your interviewee you should be prepared well before the scheduled time, arrive on time, have a confident and pleasant demeanour and dress like a professional. This means an upgrade from a t-shirt to a formal shirt, pressed trousers footwear appropriate to a professional office environment. You must look, seem and act the part if you are to carry out an effective interview.
Upon meeting your subject, whether or not you have the confidence you project, it is irrelevant, you must keep calm and put your subject at ease or face the potential of unsettling your interviewee. Introductions will be made, and should be done politely but concisely, followed by appropriate small talk. Having settled, you should have a method of recording the interview, whether by short hand notes or audio capture, these records should be kept for at least two years for both personal reference and in case of disputes. As a prepared journalist, you will have a series of notes, checklists and questions for your interviewee.
While engaging with the subject, you should not only be listening to what they are saying but how, as an active listen you should be observing how they act. The questions you ask should be open ended, designed to elicit a developed response. Beyond this, you should never make assumptions about what you are hearing. Responses should be checked, names spelled and facts scrutinised, both during the interview and after. There is no such thing as a dumb question, it is always better to have an answer, than to be left in the dark. That being said, research should be part of your preparation and you should be familiar with what you are discussing.
One of the keys to a dynamic interview is to be able to follow leads that your subject gives you. Although you may have a pre-set list of questions you want to cover, as an active listener you should be watching out for answers that beg for further explanation, for off hand mentions to be developed.
Good interviewing is about listening rather than asking questions – listening for what they don’t say s much as what they do, listening for what they say glibly and what they say awkwardly, listening to their ‘charged’ bits that touch an emotional nerve. Clever questions, in my view, are a waste of time; the really clever question is the shortest one that will elicit the longest answer – in practice usually ‘why?’
(Lynn Barber, 1991)
Finally, as the interview comes to an end, you must draw the interaction to a close. To successfully finish of an interview in a professional manner you should do the following;
- Ask your subject if they have any further comment to add
- Double check basic facts e.g.. name spelling, occupation, contact details
- Thank them for their time
Having completed this, you will have succeeded in completing your interview.