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Interviewing Tips


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This slideshow focuses on development of strong interviewing techniques by journalists. Find more journalism tips and tricks at

Published in: Education, Business

Interviewing Tips

  1. 1. Interviewing Presented by Brett Atwood Washington State University More at:
  2. 2. Interviewing • Your goal is to get accurate and interesting information for your story • There are several strategies available to get your subject to talk
  3. 3. Building Trust • A source that trusts you will be more likely to open up • To establish trust, you may need to spend some time with the subjects • If you are on a “beat,” then you may want to socially network with your most important recurring sources
  4. 4. Building Trust • Remember that your sources are human beings • They will respond better to you if you have a good track record with them • Honesty and empathy always work!
  5. 5. Funnel Interview • Save your toughest questions for last • This enables time to build trust with your interview subject
  6. 6. Trustbusters • “Burning” a source with bad ink • Misquoting a source • Identifying an anonymous source • Misrepresenting your intentions • Failure to answer any concerns/questions that the source may have before the interview
  7. 7. Trustbusters • Your first encounter with the source is critical since the first impression is made • In most cases, you will want to put the source at ease • However, in some serious interviews, you will deliberately want to use the tension to your advantage
  8. 8. Tension Strategy • When you know a subject is being deceitful, it might be good to keep the tension so that the subject’s true motives are more transparent
  9. 9. Inverted Funnel • Tough, specific questions first – Use if you have little time – Use if you need to nail down an answer
  10. 10. Preparing for the Interview • Preparation strategies for the interview will vary • What kind of interview are you doing? – News – Profile/Feature – Investigative – Broadcast TV/radio
  11. 11. The News Story • Use all available resources to research the history of the subject covered • Go direct to the source – but don’t expect them to tell you the “whole story” • An “off the record” insider may help you get a fresh perspective
  12. 12. “Off the Record” • Hotly debated topic • Is it ethical to gather info “off the record”? • Should everything be fair game? • Can you use information gained “off the record” without directly quoting the information or source?
  13. 13. Sources • Some sources will want to remain anonymous • If you agree to keep their identity private, it is unethical to reveal their names to anyone – Exceptions: • Government subpoena – If it is determined to jeopardize the national security or is essential is solving a crime • Publication policy – Due to some problems with reporter integrity, some publications are now requiring reporters to share the identity of the anonymous reporter with their supervising editor
  14. 14. Use Caution • Be aware of sources that have an axe to grind • Do they have an agenda? • Are they telling the truth? • Are they reliable? – Substance abuse = suspicion • Do they really have a direct connection to the news event? – Be careful of “hearsay”
  15. 15. Off the Record • If a subject tries to go “off the record,” you should try to get them to stay “on the record” • Usually they will still talk • Tell them you need the attribution for the sake of credibility • Or…you can return to the topic in an “on the record” question later in the interview to get your quote
  16. 16. Common Problems for Beginners • Beginning reporters often are afraid to ask probing questions that might anger the subject – You are there to get the story right above all else • They also get manipulated by the subjects who give a lot of sanitized, “canned” responses – Style but no substance
  17. 17. Dealing with Jerks • It will happen…often. • Don’t take it personally. • If they question your motives, then let reassure them that you intend to be fair and accurate in your reporting • Keep calm • Explain why the answer is necessary for the story
  18. 18. Uncomfortable Interviews • You may encounter an interview that is difficult to conduct due to the sensitivity of the subject • While personally uncomfortable, these often make for some of the best interviews • Example: – Interviewing someone who has just been laid off – Interviewing someone who has just had a death in the family – Interviewing someone who has been accused of a crime – Interviewing someone who is defensive or hostile
  19. 19. Uncomfortable Interviews • Remember that they are human, too • Behave appropriately • There is a fine line between being aggressive and obnoxious
  20. 20. The Rambling Interview • Some subjects ramble off subject • This may be unintentional, but sometimes it is a deliberate attempt to dodge a difficult question • Don’t be afraid to steer them back on track
  21. 21. Persistence Pays • When conducting an interview, make sure that your key questions are answered • If the subject does not know an answer, ask them who in the organization is available to respond • Many subjects will try to escape accountability through “double speak” and “passing the buck”
  22. 22. No Stone Left Unturned • When you write your story, you should have answers to the key questions • If you don’t, then you should include an explanation for the absence of clear information – Example: “A spokesperson declined to comment on…” – Example: “The cause of the fire was still undetermined, according to…” – Example: “The company isn’t disclosing the amount paid for the acquisition. However, the financial terms are expected to be revealed in tomorrow’s filing with the SEC.”
  23. 23. Expert Jargon • Sometimes you will interview industry experts that use jargon that is unfamiliar to the general public • Try to get the expert to rephrase the information in clearer terms • At a minimum, make sure that you fully understand the jargon so that you can paraphrase correctly • Don’t be afraid to admit your ignorance!
  24. 24. Be Provocative • Aim for a provocative interview without being confrontational • You are there to get the story – not start a fight!
  25. 25. Feature/Profile Story • Go beyond the main subject interview to get the “full story” • Talk to friends and family members to help get a diverse perspective on the subject interviewed • Your writing style will likely include observations and details that would not be appropriate in a “news” report/article
  26. 26. Investigative Reporting • Be prepared to spend a longer amount of time preparing this piece • You must strategize in how you ask your questions, as well as WHO to ask questions and WHEN to ask them • Example: At a certain point, your inquiries can result in actions that impede or prevent further investigation
  27. 27. Broadcast Interviews • When you conduct an interview for TV or radio, the goal is to get a sound bite that can be extracted and edited into a larger news piece
  28. 28. Types of Broadcast Interviews • News Interviews – Gather info on a news event – Usually quick and to-the-point • Feature Interviews – Designed to entertain – May be more in-depth
  29. 29. Interview Editing • While some interviews are done live, many are pre-recorded and edited • In the editing room, the actual interview may be chopped down considerably to include only significant soundbites
  30. 30. Sound Bite – Sometimes unintentional but often strategized – Memorable and catchy quote – Quick, focused – Captures the essence of your point – May be funny “one liner”
  31. 31. Infamous Sound Bites • “I never had sex with that woman” • “Can’t we all just get along?” • “Read my lips: no new taxes!”
  32. 32. Pre-Interview • Not all announcers use the pre-interview • It can serve as a good rehearsal for both host and guest • Can help to focus topic of discussion • Danger of losing spontaneity
  33. 33. Altered States • There are some things that will alter the “mood” of the interview subject • Example: – The physical presence of a camera or tape recorder may cause the subject to “perform” or be more careful in considering what they reveal
  34. 34. Your Secret Weapon • Here is one of the best kept secrets for interviewing: – Some of the best information comes in the casual conversation that follows the “interview” – After the camera or tape has stopped and the pen is put away, the subject may begin to converse casually and reveal better information than given previously
  35. 35. Interview Skills • Don’t talk too much if the interview is for broadcast media • Keep the guest and topic on focus • Don’t ask overly complex questions – If necessary, then make sure that you explain complexities in easy to understand language • Listen! – Adjust questions when necessary
  36. 36. Interview Skills • Ask Follow-up Questions • Offer non-verbal feedback to responses • Ask for clarification, if necessary
  37. 37. Types of Questions • Closed ended questions – Answered with simple “yes” or “no” – Example: “Do you like your job?” – Generally makes a bad interview • Open ended questions – Provides opportunity for broad answers – Example: “What do you like about your job?”
  38. 38. Interview Tips • Avoid leading questions – “You don’t like George Bush, do you?” • Avoid obvious questions – “Were you unhappy when your movie flopped?” • If the interview is being broadcast, plan your transitions from topic to topic ahead of time
  39. 39. Keep Your Cool • Maintain control of the interview • Know when and how to interrupt to keep guest from rambling • Maintain a neutral/objective view
  40. 40. Build to the Point • Save your most volatile questions for the end of the interview • Begin with easier questions to establish a connection and trust with your guest
  41. 41. Prepare Your Questions • Troubleshoot your interview before it occurs • Plan questions ahead of time • You probably won’t use all of your questions, but the process is helpful in establishing a focus to your actual interview
  42. 42. Accuracy Check • Inevitably, you will encounter a need to clarify a quote or note that you have taken during the interview • It is not uncommon to “fact check” with the subject by following up directly with them after the conclusion of the interview • In some cases, a quote is read back to confirm that it is accurate …or to ask for clarification
  43. 43. Fact Checking • Be cautious when a subject presents a statistic as if it is fact • Be prepared to confirm all statistics with an independent source • Statistics are often manipulated
  44. 44. Using Quotes • Only use a quote if it conveys something that can’t be communicated better in your own words • Often a better strategy is paraphrasing what the subject has told you
  45. 45. Using Quotes • Use quote if it is particularly articulate or powerful in the wording • Most people do not speak in a way that translates well into a quote
  46. 46. Using Quotes • The more significant the interviewee is, the more likely a reader will be interested • Make sure that the quote is used to add a unique angle or credibility to the story
  47. 47. Quoting Accurately • If the grammar is poor, then some reporters will “clean up” the quote • This practice varies by publication • HOWEVER, if the interview was witnessed by multiple media outlets (example: press conference) then you should leave the quotes alone
  48. 48. (sic) • If you want to be cautious, then you can use the “(sic)” notation in your printed quote to notate a grammatical error made by your subject
  49. 49. Observation • Sometimes a key part of the story lies in what is observed, rather than spoken • Pay attention to the body language or non-verbal cues from your subject