Beginners' Guidelines for Interviewing

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Jun 27, 2008 en Journalism Basics
  1. Almost never plunge in with tough questions at the beginning. Instead, break the ice, explain who you are, what you are doing, why you went to him or her.

    2. Often the opening question should be an open end inquiry that sets the source off on his or her favorite subject. Its value is to get the person talking, to set up a conversational atmosphere.

    3. Watch and listen closely. Does he seem open or secretive? What is he leaving out? Beware of the possibility that the interview can become a formless conversation you can't control.

    4. Start leading him along a trail you have picked. One question should logically follow another. Lead up to a tough question with two or three preliminaries.

    5. Listen for hints that suggest questions you had not thought of. Stay alert for the possibility that the theme you picked in advance is the wrong one, or only a minor one. Remain flexible. You may uncover a story that is better than the one you came for.

    6. Keep reminding yourself that when you leave, you are going to write a story. As he talks, ask yourself: "What is my lead going to be?" Do I have enough information to back it up.

    7. Do not be reluctant to ask an embarrassing question. Just ask yourself if it is key to what you are writing about.

    8. Do not be afraid to ask naive questions. You can't know everything, even if you have done your homework.

    9. If necessary, ask questions to keep the subject talking, such as "What do you mean?" or "Why is that?"

    10. Do not give up right away on a question because the subject says "No comment." Try again, asking a different way. Suggest going off the record if you can't find the material anywhere else and feel it's key to an important story.

    11. Sometimes, your best quote or fact comes after the subject thinks the interview is over. As you are putting away your notebook and are saying good bye, he often relaxes and makes a crucial but offhand remark.