Interviews: From Mild to Wild

As a journalist, the interview is one of your primary tools. The art of the interview, as I have previously discussed, requires a certain finesse and degree professionalism. The skill required are universal in application for interviews, no matter the situation. However interviews do vary in context, and it is important to keep this in mind.

One of the most common and easiest way of getting an interview out of people is by calling them. Telephone interviews are simple, all you need to conduct one is a number, it’s quick and convenient for both the journalist and the interviewee. Conversely however, it can also become quite time consuming to pursue someone over the phone, it’s quite easy for the subject to hang up if you get too pushy, not to mention the inability to read their body language. Bad phone lines and mumbling can further hinder the interview. It is key to remain patient during these interviews as they can get frustrating.

Interviewing someone through an interpreter can be just as tricky. There is always the potential for the interpreter not to tell you everything the subject said. You should be prepared to push the interpreter to expand on what was said if you believe they didn’t tell you everything. These interviews will take longer than usual. It should also be noted in your final piece that interpreter was used in the interview.

On scene interviews can be quiet a rush, although it can be tricky to get access and information about what occurred. Authorities are usually prohibited from talking to media, but by making small talk with them you may be able to find out some of the smaller details, ask who you could talk to about what happened. It’s important to pick your moments, avoid being inappropriate or rude in your pursuit of the news in sensitive situations. Be wary of talking to children as it can become a bit of an ethical minefield with potential accusations of exploitation. Members of the public are fair game however, witnesses may still be on an adrenaline rush and keen to talk.

Press conferences are much more of a competitive environment. It is imperative that you get there early so you can get a good spot. You should be writing notes for questions and from what other journalists are asking as you go, be mindful of giving away your potential news angle in the questions you ask.

As often as you might arrange interviews by appointment, journalists are known for turning up uninvited for various reasons. Whether it be in public or knocking on someone’s door, it requires a confident attitude. To get the best response, you should be polite, introduce yourself quickly and it may even pay to apologise for taking up their time. Be prepared to get brushed off or to get off their property, in this case try to get their contact details or leave yours so they can contact you later at a better time.

The most dreaded of interviews amongst journalists is the “death knock”. This is when you make contact with the friends or family of a deceased for an interview about their loss and the deceased. These are sad and difficult interviews that take a lot of courage, sympathy and empathy. These interviews are the alternative to pilfering the deceased social media for images and information to publish, and the family iscan be grateful for the opportunity to talk about their loved one. You have a job to do and it is of great importance that you get all the details right, you should not be adding to the grief by publishing inaccurate information about the deceased. You should be very polite in your approach, apologising for their loss, make your approach as an offer to talk about the one they have lost. Avoid being pushy, especially if you are turned away, do not harass the subject. Something you should be very careful about in this situation, is being the first to break the news of the death to the family, this must be avoided at all costs.

Interviews come in all shapes and sizes, requiring varying levels of sensitivities. As you spend more and more time practicing as a journalist you will get to experience a full range, and with hope, become a strong and capable interviewer.


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