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Chapter 10 Interviews Fedler, Bender, Davenport and Drager “Censorship can never be the solution. The only thing worse than an out-of-control press acting with no regard for decency would be restricting that very same press.” George Clooney, actor Why Am I Interviewing?

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Chapter 10 Interviews Fedler, Bender, Davenport and Drager

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“Censorship can never be the solution. The only thing worse than an out-of-control press acting with no regard for decency would be restricting that very same press.”
          • George Clooney, actor
why am i interviewing
Why Am I Interviewing?
  • Facts, details, dates, names, locations, costs
  • Chronology of unfolding events
  • Relationships among characters involved
  • Context and perspective
  • Anecdotes, drama, explanation
  • Description – DETAILS -- of environment, physical appearance, mannerisms, smell, sound, textures
The character’s version of events
  • Explanations of contradictions
  • Give the character a chance to respond to allegations or charges against him/her
types of interviewing
Types of Interviewing
  • Information gathering:
  • Background only
  • For publication
  • Face-to-Face
  • Telephone
  • E-mail
verbal and non verbal communication
Verbal and Non-Verbal Communication
  • Trust is a necessary component in good interviews.
  • Confrontational types of interviews are a small percentage of investigative interviews.
face to face interview
Face-to-face interview
  • The face-to-face interview allows for maximum opportunity to establish trust. It also permits rich nonverbal, as well as verbal, communication. The two parties observe one another and take note of the feedback that comes as the interview proceeds.
Eye behavior in the interview provides many cues. A fairly strong, constant gaze may be interpreted as a sign of candor or of deep engagement in the conversation, but don’t stare. This is often a sign to dominate or invade.
  • Facial expression and body movement, along with eye behavior, constitute kinesics, highly significant elements in interpreting meaning during interviews.
When nonverbal signals complement the verbal message, they may not be obvious. When nonverbal and verbal, disagree, interviewers tend to believe nonverbal signals.
  • The most useful nonverbal signals are those suggesting the interviewee may not be sure an answer is accurate or appropriate.
  • Ambivalence or puzzled gestures and evasive eye behavior, signal your interviewee may be confused.
the telephone interview
The telephone interview
  • A telephone interview, on the other hand, lacks most of the important nonverbal elements. However, telephone interviews can provide paralinguistic cues of great value.
  • Behavior of the voice, such as volume, tone, pitch, intensity, and other vocal signs, like hems, haws, groans and uh-huhs.
In telephone interviews, both partners must emphasize paralinguistic factors, as a way to compensate for lack of other nonverbal elements.
  • Paralinguistics concern how words are spoken
    • volume, intonation, speed.
    • In intercultural communication, paralinguistic differences can be responsible for subconscious or stereotyped, confusion.
    • For example; The notion that Americans are talking "too loudly" is often interpreted in Europe as aggressive, uncultivated or tactless behaviour.
    • Likewise, British, speaking quietly, may be interpreted as secretive, uncultured or tactless by Americans.
time use
Time use
  • Time use, or chronemics, is another nonverbal system that can work for understanding in both personal and telephone interviews.
  • Promptness for the interview -- whether in person, or arranged in advance as a telephone interview --signals interest, courtesy, and personal competence.
  • The person who is late begins with a disadvantage and must apologize for keeping his partner waiting.
Pacing the interview is another nonverbal way to communicate. It sets the mood for the interview. Pacing includes length of pauses after a question and rate of speech.
  • Silence -- except in broadcast interviews -- is recommended by research.
  • Interviewees are more relaxed and spontaneous when substantial silence is part of the partnership.
  • After silence, an interviewee often offers additional points or examples.
on the phone
On the phone
  • Telephone interviews offer opportunity for taking notes on computers.
  • Also, being able to use a headset is convenient for the note taker.
  • In addition to note-taking, some telephones offer the interviewer a chance to tape-record the interview for additional accuracy checks. Make sure the interviewee knows it.
  • In the e-mail interview, nonverbal elements are missing, of course.
  • A recognition of this gave birth to "emoticons," which are punctuation-mark cues to clarify how the verbal content should be "taken“ :>)
The e-mail interview has compensating advantages.
  • An interviewee receives questions in a "batch" and can ask the interviewer about any unclear questions.
  • From reading the questions, the interviewee gets a good idea of how knowledgeable the interviewer is and can add background, if needed.
  • An interviewee may also suggest background reading.
  • Along with trust and sensitivity, the interview requires interviewer support.
  • This support does not require an interviewer to agree with a subject’s perspective, ideas, policies, or ideology.
  • It should reflect only personal support, a commitment by the interviewer to listen carefully, strive to understand, and represent the person's point of view accurately.
  • Indeed, studies have shown appearing to agree with an interviewee can be a dangerous practice.
  • The spirit of the supportive interview is embodied in an "interview bill of rights," developed with journalistic interviews in mind.
  • Many of the standards set forth in the document are worth considering for other forms of interviews as well.
interviewee rights
Interviewee Rights
  • 1. The right to an objective listening to the facts presented.
  • 2. The right to an accurate representation of his or her position.
  • 3. The right to a fair and balanced context for all statements.
  • 4. The right to know in advance the general area of questioning and to have reasonable time for preparation.
5. The right to reasonable flexibility as to when to have the interview. (Just as there are times when a reporter cannot be interrupted near a deadline, there are times when others cannot be interrupted.)
  • 6. The right to expect an interviewer to do some homework.
7. The right to withhold comment when there is good reason without having this translated as evading or "stonewalling," for example, information governed by Securities and Exchange Commission regulations, competitive secrets, matters in litigation or negotiation, information that could damage innocent persons.
  • 8. The right to an assumption of innocence until guilt is proven.
9. The right to offer feedback to the reporter, especially to call attention to instances in which the story, in the honest opinion of the interviewee, missed the point or was in error--and to have this feedback received in good faith.
  • 10. The right to appropriate correction of substantial errors without further damage to the credibility or reputation of the interviewee's organization.
interviewer rights
Interviewer Rights
  • 1. The right to access authoritative information on a timely basis.
  • 2. The right to appropriate candor.
  • 3. The right to access to information and assistance on favorable and adverse stories.
  • 4. The right to protection on an exclusive story until it has been published or another reporter inquires independently for on the same topic.
5. The right not to be used by business for "free advertising" on a purely commercial story.
  • 6. The right not to be reminded that advertising pays the reporter's salary.
  • 7. The right not to be held accountable for ill treatment by another reporter or another medium at another time.
  • 8. The right to publish a story without showing it to the interviewee in advance.
9. The right not to be asked to suppress legitimate news purely on the grounds that it would be embarrassing or damaging.
  • 10. The right not to be summoned to a news conference when a simple phone call written statement, news release or interview would do just as well.
mutual trust
Mutual Trust
  • Ground rules are how a partnership establishes mutual trust, respect, and consideration.
  • Although concerns of this chapter extend beyond journalistic interviews, Jamison's list illuminates how professional relationships should work.
  • The interview, as interpersonal communication, is more formal, more strategic, and more specific than conversations between two people.
a stimulating interview
A Stimulating Interview
  • Qualities that contribute to good conversation abound in a stimulating interview.
  • They explain, in part, the willingness of sources to give time for interviews and the contribution that interview information makes to production of interesting messages.
Communicators share interview goals, whether they work in news, advertising, or public-relations.
  • Questions they ask will be similar, but will reflect differences according to ultimate use of information.
  • Their common goal is gathering accurate, factual, and comprehensive material to produce an interesting message.
insight ideas
Insight, Ideas
  • The sense of dialog about the topic can be established through interviews.
  • Interviews provide insight and details about people.
  • Authority is established.
  • Interviewees provide facts, ideas, statistics, interpretations – DETAILS –

from a position of authority.

  • Interviews provide variety in perspectives. Getting more than one side to the story is no small task.
  • Your interview will provide you with some of the most recent information. The authority you select deals with your topic every day. Her job depends on it. Her information will be current.
  • Interpretations can lead to predictions, or opinions about a situation’s outcome.
  • Interviews provide continual negotiation between what has been learned and what has been missed. They provide context, perspective, accuracy, completeness, currency and authority.
be prepared
Be Prepared
  • The interview should never take place before the interviewer is well versed on the subject.
whom should i interview
Whom Should I Interview?
  • John Madge classified interviewees as:
  • The Potentate
  • The Expert
  • The People
selecting interviewees
Selecting Interviewees
  • Potentates have authority and/or power.
  • Experts have special knowledge of the subject.
  • People have experiences - testimony.
Choose those people with the appropriate facts and experiences. Choose facts over phrases.
  • Media selection of "the same experts" has come under criticism.
  • Many times biases are at play in the selection of an expert. The white male establishment
  • Think about "the people" when you are looking for expert comment.
If you are evaluating literacy programs, interview someone who has learned to read, as well as the one who taught this person to read.
  • List potential interviewees, check their reputations. Check the “Who's Who,” or check recent local articles and professional journals for their works and comments.
how many sources are enough
How Many Sources are Enough?
  • Your list of potential interviewees will start to dwindle as you have to deal with willingness and availability.
  • In some cases they will just want to give you their research results.
  • Sometimes they will refer you to someone else familiar with their work.
  • Don't be discouraged. Most will agree to be interviewed.
planning interviews
Planning Interviews
  • Lay a good foundation before you go. Let the interviewee set the time, place, conditions.
  • If there are conflicts, say so. Your honesty will be appreciated up front.
  • Remember you are establishing trust and relationship at this point. Remember to ask about a tape recorder or camera. Will photos be allowed?
Even if you are using e-mail, get permission to use it. Many times e-mail is ignored if it is unexpected.


  • 1. What material is agreed on?
  • 2. What is disputed?
  • 3. What unexplored aspects of the subject should be reflected in my questions?
  • 4. What questions are appropriate to each interviewee?
what about
What about . . .?
  • 5. What sensitivities and special perspectives should I be aware of in questioning each interviewee?
  • 6. What information in my files may need updating or confirming?
  • 7. What human-interest information can be elicited from this interviewee?
  • Interview preparation also involves preparing for social and psychological aspects of the interview – Their shoes!
Raymond Gorden cites eight inhibitors that interviewers should be aware of in their interview strategies. Four of these inhibitors may make sources unwilling to give information:
  • 1 competing demands for time
  • 2 ego threats that make the respondent fear loss of esteem or status
  • 3 standards of etiquette that put some topics off limits in certain circumstances
  • 4 trauma, the reluctance to return to a painful situation.
The other four inhibitors affect the speaker's or interviewee’s ability to respond adequately:
  • 1 forgetfulness
  • 2 chronological confusion
  • 3 inferential confusion
  • 4 unconscious behavior
when should i conduct my interviews
When Should I Conduct My Interviews?
  • Conduct interviews when you want to know more about the interviewee’s interests and perceptions.
  • Always arrive early.
  • Thorough research is key to good interviews and gives the reporter at least seven advantages.
1. They will ask about issues already publicized.
  • 2. They will have leads for interesting questions.
  • 3. They will not appear ignorant.
  • 4. They will recognize newsworthy statements.
  • 5. They will readily spot inconsistencies.
  • 6. They are less likely to re-interview the main subject.
  • 7. They encourage their sources to speak more freely.
where should i interview
Where Should I Interview?
  • Conduct your interview in a place where your source feels comfortable.
  • Newsrooms are poor places for interviews.
  • Luncheon appointments because there are many distractions in cafes and restaurants.
  • When a place cannot be arranged, consider options – telephone or e-mail.
what questions should i ask
What Questions Should I Ask?
  • Ask questions that elicit anecdotes.
  • Questions should be in a logical order.
  • Move from general to more specific questions. Remember there is a time when a question may be more appropriate.
  • Save the most sensitive or embarrassing questions for the end of the interview.
  • There will be more trust, and if the interview ends, you have most of what you wanted anyway.
Social psychologists Eleanor and Nathan Maccoby developed six points to assist question writers:
  • Avoid words with double meaning: Even such simple terms as dinner can result in error. Residents of a nursing home, for example, may refer to dinner as either the noon meal or the evening meal, depending on custom and social class. The interviewer in such a situation might conclude that people did not know what they were eating, since they gave different answers to the question "What was served for dinner?"
Avoid long questions:
  • Use a carefully crafted question to open the subject and a series of separate follow-ups that will cover the material.
  • When an interview concerns a subject unfamiliar to an interviewee, offer explanation before the question: "While you were held captive, some new legislation was introduced in Congress. The provisions include ... Do you think that would have helped in your situation?”
It is helpful to ask questions in terms of immediate experience: The respondent may resist such a general question as "Is the State Department doing a good job in these kidnapping cases?" A specific question -- "In your case, did the State Department work effectively toward your release?" -- is more to the point.
how should i conduct interviews
How Should I Conduct Interviews?
  • Make your purpose very clear.
  • Take charge of the conversation.
  • Successful interviewers are good listeners.
  • Ask for clarification when you don’t understand. Your subject will forgive you for being ignorant, but not stupid.
  • Evoke narrative, especially in broadcast.
  • Don’t bully or intimidate.
  • Always ask what they would like to add.
rituals and routines
Rituals and Routines
  • Set the time and length of time for the interview. This shows effective time use and respect for the interviewee's position. Time is one thing you can never restore to a person. Avoid getting pulled into giving your opinion or discussing too much of your feelings with the interviewee. Draw them back on track if they start to wander. Be as kind and informal as you want or can be, but don't go off discussing mom'n 'em.
Take Notes: Don’t be shy about taking notes. Note-taking is not making a transcript.
  • Just jot down direct quotes you want to use and ask for time to do it. Explain that you want to be exact.
  • Accuracy concerns will help with trust.
  • Cameras and Tape Recorders should be used only with permission and as unobtrusive as possible.
sources of interview error
Sources of Interview Error
  • In a study by Gary Lawrence and David Grey, sources and interviewers both cited insufficient background information as the main cause of subjective inaccuracies. Limited contact between reporter and source were found to be associated with the most serious errors.
Language -- vocabulary differences
  • Interviewer prejudices
  • Biases lead to agenda-setting
  • "Don't you think?"
  • Note taking
  • Race and Gender
  • Intentional falsehood:
intentional falsehood
Intentional falsehood
  • To cover complicity in shameful or criminal behavior.
  • Reluctance to admit being on [welfare].
  • Fear the truth will "look bad" to family, friends, or employer.
  • To seem wealthy, well-traveled, or well-educated.
  • Desire for public attention, "free publicity."
  • Distrust of the reporter or story use.
  • Attempt to tell the reporter what "the reporter wants to hear."
mass communications interviews
  • Group Interviews
  • Focus Groups are often used in mass-communication research. The moderator makes sure that the basic questions are covered, but encourages the group to question further, bring up new points. He makes sure everyone gets to contribute to the conversation -- and pool of information.
News reporting uses the group interview. Mothers Against Drunk Driving may bring members together to speak to a reporter ... Homeowners may meet to discuss zoning. Sometimes it is hard to get quotes and keep track of who is talking ... many times a tape recorder may be used to back up the notes.
investigative interviews
Investigative Interviews
  • Multiple interviews are the rule for investigative journalism. In addition to extensive use of records and documents, investigative journalists try to run down all relevant leads and double- or triple-check all facts. Good investigative reporters are characterized by excellent information-finding skills and tireless checking of often dull material.
a wide range
A Wide Range
  • Interviews often lead to additional sources, who must be checked out.
  • Investigative reports perhaps provide the widest range of interviewees than any other type of reporting.
  • In the story, facts can speak for themselves. This does not mean you should be cold or unsympathetic to an interviewee's circumstances.
  • Indeed, some very successful investigative reporters advocate a strong display of understanding for the subject's field and problems.
  • Just remember not to use an interview as a forum to promote your opinions
news conferences
News Conferences
  • This is the journalist's least favorite method of news gathering. Other people, usually people with a strong agenda are in charge. Reporters who might ask tough or controversial questions are sometimes not recognized by the press conference conductors. It takes a well-informed, well-prepared attentive listener to take advantage of a press conference setting.
verbatim interviews
Verbatim Interviews
  • This is the Q and A type of interview. Magazines use this often, giving the credentials of the person being interviewed and a short background of the issue. The interviewer is identified in either notes, or a byline.
survey interviews
Survey Interviews
  • In the 1960s, Philip Meyer led the way for journalists' use of surveys in his studies of Detroit residents' views of the crisis in race relations.
  • In his book Precision Journalism, Meyer proposed a plan for journalists' use of scientific methods in reporting. The same methods had been in use for decades in other organizations that provide media content -- for example, national polling organizations.
Survey interviews differ from and resemble other types of interviews. In scientific interviewing, the interviewees are selected according to principles of tested sampling procedures. Interviewers are trained to work from identical interview forms. Most often, the questions are structured so answers can be analyzed statistically. Standards for interviewers are similar in survey research. All cautions in preparation, careful use of language, nonverbal communication and self-control apply.
listening to and recording interviews
  • 1. Avoid over-stimulation: do not get too excited about what the respondent seems to be saying until comprehension of the point is complete.
  • 2. Listen for central ideas and be able to discriminate between fact and principle, idea and example, evidence and argument.
3. Give the speaker conscious attention, indicating by eye contact, posture, and facial expression that you are attentive, all of which help the interviewee to express himself or herself clearly.
  • 4. Resist distractions, either by improving the physical conditions or by concentrating effectively.
  • 5. Have several systems of note taking and adapt to the speaking style of the interviewee.
listening attitude
Listening Attitude
  • The "listening attitude," in which the listener is open to hearing the speaker's ideas, contrasts with the "going through the motions" attitude of some interviewers, according to communication researchers George M. Killenberg and Rob Anderson.
Killenberg and Anderson examine three kinds of journalistic listening: listening for new information, listening in a discriminative style to discern differences between statements and positions, and listening for personality aspects of the interviewee. All three may be taking place simultaneously during an interview, of course, but one may be dominant in particular kinds of interviews.
informational listening
Informational listening
  • Informational listening involves getting a clear record of factual material, checking perceptions about that material, and learning the interviewee's central ideas and the style in which they are expressed.
discriminative listening
Discriminative listening
  • Discriminative listening is important in interviews in which discrepancies in information or interpretation are being explored. The authors suggest that interviewers adopt a style of "sensitive skepticism," as contrasted with cynicism, avoid arguing with the interviewee, be alert to the interviewee's reasoning fallacies, identify one's own personal biases and how they could affect effective listening, and be on guard against becoming bored with what seems on the surface to be the "same old stuff" on a particular subject.
personality listening
"personality" listening
  • For "personality" listening, which takes place when interviewing well-known or celebrated people, the authors suggest that interviewers avoid premature judgment about the interviewee's character or intelligence, focus on supporting the individual's willingness to tell of personal experiences, and on nonverbal cues given in the interview.
Final Thoughts: Interviewing is an art.
  • Like dancing, interviewing takes practice.
  • Like writing, interviewing takes practice.
  • Young reporters should not be discouraged.
  • Time, practice and persistence will yield strong returns as your career progresses.