To be prepared is half the victory

Miguel Cervantes said that.

But I have to pass this along, at the risk of sounding like a scold: I was at a favorite local restaurant last week and ran into a friend who gets interviewed a lot. He said, “You work in the journalism school, don’t you?”

Uh-oh, I thought. Bravely, I nodded.

He started to point at me while he spoke. “Not a single one of your students is ever prepared for an interview. They come in here, they ask me about the history of (fill in name of business here), they ask me all this stuff they could find on our website. They want me to go over all this history with them that’s been published a million times.”

Now, my friend is not a dumb guy and he understands that you have to verify information that you have picked up from other sources, including the company website. That wasn’t what he was talking about. He was quite clear about what he wants from the interview: to be able to talk about the good stuff, the new stuff — the news.

“We spend all this time going over the background, and it’s a total waste of my time,” he said. “And I know I’m doing the kid’s homework for him.”

I told my friend I would pass it along to you, though I am by no means convinced that he was talking about anyone in the reporting class this semester.

Preparation is a sign of respect for the people we call sources. Don’t skimp on it.

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12 Responses to To be prepared is half the victory

  1. It seems to me that part of being a web-savvy journalist is not just knowing how to write effectively for the web, but to research effectively from the web. Aside from checking the Missourian clips before we do a story, we have the ever-handy Google at our fingertips, and even in our pockets and purses, thanks to cell phones.

    Interviews are also much more comfortable with some preparation. The more prepared I am, the more it feels like a natural conversation and less like a formal interview. The news part of the conversation comes faster — and so do the great quotes.

    Cervantes was right (and I like that you quoted him).

  2. Being able to convey to my source that I am familiar with his business and what he is talking about is the best/quickest way I’ve found to get great quotes. To get someone to open up a bit requires for them to trust the report and know their words are going to be used accurately and in context. Doing a couple quick Google searches and reading a few paragraphs goes a long, long way.

    I think that’s true for anyone, not just students.

  3. Dustin says:

    With the availability of information we have, there is no excuse not to be prepared. A 30-second Google search in a pinch works wonders, even on the tightest deadline.

  4. I feel like this is a pretty common complaint, and it’s something that sort of boggles my mind. With the accessibility of technology these days, you can find out almost anything about anyone no matter how much time you have. So why don’t people take some time and do it? I’m not trying to talk down to anyone, because I know there are circumstances that preparation can only be minimal, it’s just an observation.

    And sometimes, I’ve found, that is where your best questions come from. A blog entry, a tweet, something that isn’t completely “official.” It can speak the loudest and function as a way to get information you didn’t know existed beforehand.

    So, if you want to really think about it in terms of technology, if you take that extra 30 minutes you spend texting or facebook chatting or tweeting each day and did the research, it could change the face of your interview, and the story that comes out of it.

  5. This surprises me. Interviews are nerve-racking enough without going into them unprepared.

    Sometimes I think we ask questions like, “Tell me about how you got started” just as a filler to get a good quote or just because we think we need to. Maybe the reporters were informed but they just didn’t own the interview or focus enough on the news.
    It’s probably good to remember to let them know you’ve done your research by asking them to confirm what you’ve already read, instead of making the subject explain something that’s already available to you.

    I think it’s important for us to remind ourselves also that we’re no longer just doing assignments for a class that will only be seen by a professor– we’re reporting for a city newspaper and who you interview, what you ask, and how you put together stories should be taken seriously. Whether or not you want a career as a print journalist, that’s our role right now and we need to be prepared.

  6. Caitlin Miller says:

    I try to go into interviews with as much information as possible, if not for the source, but for me! I can’t imagine going into an interview not feeling prepared. It’s so easy to gather information these days with the internet at our fingertips. I think it’s really important to do your research and feel comfortable with your understanding of the topic.

  7. Walker Moskop says:

    It’s also crucial to do your homework before an interview not just out of respect to the interviewee, but to give yourself the opportunity to control the direction and flow of the interview. If you don’t know enough about a topic to present specific, pointed questions that make your subject talk about what you want them to talk about, they will gladly give you their talking points and lead you away from the details you need for a good story.

  8. Sydney Berry says:

    It puzzles me that anyone wouldn’t be prepared, what with the never-ending ways to get background information. It is a step that should never be skipped, and quite frankly, the easiest step in the story-writing process. Look it up online.

  9. Audrey Moon says:

    I have been working in Jeff City all semester and have found that politicians dodge the press anyway, so when you don’t know what you are asking about, they will dismiss you immediately. I can’t stress how important it is for reporters to be knowledgeable about a subject so that one can avoid that embarrassment. If you have more background information it makes your interview easier by being able to supplement or compliment your interview throughout questioning.

  10. maryals says:

    I’d agree with what Robert said, if you let the source know that you are knowledgeable about you’re asking them, and maybe even quote something from their website or some other outlet of information, they will confirm it and then elaborate on it. Great way to get quotes and to get them talking.

  11. Caitlin Wherley says:

    Sometimes I feel like I over-prepare for interviews. I want to make sure that the person(s) I’m interviewing knows I prepared, and that I really care about what I’m interviewing them for.
    I recently did an interview with the owner of a bookstore, and he complimented me on the questions I asked him. I know that my preparation helped me come up with good questions that were outside of the basic realm.

  12. It really is. First, because you are more likely to be respected by the interviewee, and also because your questions will be more pertinent.

    How could Cervantes be wrong?

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