The Art of Interviewing

What are some foolproof ways of ensuring you get the most out of sources?

On the first day of my journalism course at News Associates, we were sent out to find a news story in the local area. After a few false starts (including a man in a newsagents who was clearly just making stuff up on the spot), we got talking to a lady in a pet shop about a cat that had swallowed a customer’s engagement ring.

Upon getting back to the office, we realised we’d forgotten to get the basic information-the lady’s name and contact details, so we could follow up on the story. It was a valuable lesson: it’s vital to always get the full name (with correct spelling), age and occupation of your interview subjects, as well as ensuring you have a way of contacting them in case you need to clarify any key facts.

Since that fated day in Wimbledon I’ve conducted plenty of interviews; I grilled Conservative mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey, spoke to Extinction Rebellion activists, and chatted to one of my favourite bands ( Bombay Bicycle Club)… I certainly feel a lot more comfortable speaking to strangers than I did a few years ago.

As someone with social anxiety, I’ve always found telephone interviews difficult because the lack of paralinguistic signals means I tend to nervously babble. I’ve had to focus really hard on trying to slow down and forcing myself not to fill every awkward silence. It has got easier over time, and I prefer Zoom interviews now as it’s great to get a glimpse into peoples’ homes-it’s extra colour that you can add to the piece.

I’ve also been interviewed fairly frequently over the last year, which has also helped me become a better interviewer. I’ve helped a number of university students with journalism projects and it’s usually incredibly obvious when someone is a dab-hand at interviews. I’ve watched as people who have blatantly taped their questions above their laptop screen have rattled off questions without any adjustment for where the conversation leads, and in contrast, I’ve watched as people have thought of questions on the fly based on a particularly interesting answer.

Interviewing is definitely one of those skills that gets easier the more you do it. I turned to Twitter to ask journalists to share their best bits of advice for early career stage journalists who might find interviews a bit daunting. Here’s what they said:

I feel like there are two main tacks you can take with interviews: you can either read everything ever written about your subject and go in primed with facts and tonnes of really interesting questions to ask them. They might be impressed and/or flattered by how thoroughly you’ve researched them and open up to you more as a result.

Or, you can play dumb. By all means, do loads of research and have lots of questions ready, but ask your interview subject to explain things to you as if you have no idea what they’re talking about. Chances are, there are plenty of readers who won’t understand what exactly it is that you’re talking about and so your article will benefit from having really concise, accessible information-especially if you’re writing in a jargon-heavy field such as science or tech.

What interview approach do you prefer? Hit reply and let me know if there are any top tips I’ve missed!

My week

… in editing

My week was spent coordinating the next issue of The Indiependent’s magazine, which is now available for pre-order! Our cover story is an interview with Wolf Alice about their forthcoming album, Blue Weekend, which I’m really excited about.

… in writing

Pitches: 3 new, 4 re-pitches and 2 follow-ups

Commissions: 1 (£400 for 1,000 words)

One of my re-pitches got commissioned! This just goes to show you shouldn’t give up on your ideas if you don’t get a response at first.

I also got a really lovely rejection email for one of my pitches, where the editor took the time to explain why she didn’t want to commission me (it was a good idea but too music business focused and these sorts of pieces don’t tend to perform well at that particular publication).

Articles written: 0

Articles published: 0

… in listening/watching

I’m so proud of The Indiependent Opinion & Lifestyle teams-the latest episode of ‘Indiependent Thinking’ is super hard-hitting stuff (TW: sexual assault and violence).

… in reading

Not going to lie, I was really busy with coordinating The Indiependent’s next print issue so I’ve not read as widely as I’d have liked to.

Originally published at https://thepeakdistrict.substack.com.

The Indiependent Founder, NCTJ qualified journalist, Oxford University grad. Interested in tech, political communication & data ethics. Tweets: @BettyKirkers

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