Interviewing on the fly

Remember the other day when I said that people who are interviewed by reporters a lot say they have two pet peeves about Missourian and Vox reporters? I told you what their #1 complaint was: that student journalists often don’t speak slowly or clearly enough in their voice mail messages, making it difficult or impossible for sources to call back. I asked you to SPEAK SLOWLY AND CLEARLY (remember Liz’s deaf Aunt Bertha) and say your name and phone number once at the beginning of your message and again at the end. S-P-E-L-L your name.

Weren’t you curious about thing #2?

Well, here it is: The people we call sources say Missourian reporters often show up for interviews underprepared. That is, the student doesn’t do his/her homework. One guy I know who owns a restaurant downtown described it this way: “This student showed up and just didn’t know stuff that he should have known because it’s been written about so many times by so many other people. He expected me to fill him in on all of that stuff, and I just don’t have time to do that.”

At a minimum, you should:

  • Know the title and basic relationship to the story of the person interviewed (e.g., she’s been activist on this issue for years and is a volunteer with an animal rescue organization).
  •  Know what was last reported on the issue. Where does it stand?
  • Read the news release thoroughly and highlight the key facts, if you’re starting from a news release. Get the person to elaborate on what’s there so you do not have to attribute it to the release and so that you have a shot at a story that’s different (and better) than everyone else’s.

In short, even if you have only three minutes to prepare to report a story you should use all three of them getting prepared by reading whatever is available as background. Take notes on what you’ve read. Ask questions of the editor who knows the most about the subject. Take notes again.

And remember that when covering breaking news, the best tool is between your ears. Think about the whole story. Think like a reader (you are one, after all): What do you want to know? What’s the most important and interesting thing about this story? Do you have all the Ws and that important H?

Have a look at these tips for interviewing in breaking news situations. Print them, and put them in your notebook. Add to this list for yourself and others.

What have you learned from a recent interview?

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2 Responses to Interviewing on the fly

  1. screports says:

    Preparation is so important. I recently did an interview with a winemaker and during the time I spent with him, he would ask me about my thoughts on some of his wines. Thankfully, I had tasted his wines beforehand and was able to have thoughtful, in depth responses!

  2. Megan May says:

    In a recent interview I realized that it helps to keep asking “why?” I had one interview for my story and when I went back to my notes I realized I didnt ask the person to elaborate very much. When I had a second interview I dug deeper when people would say things and I was able to get a more interesting story.

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