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Interviewing - PowerPoint PPT Presentation

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Interviewing. Obtaining information. Interviews are one of the main sources we have to obtain information, which is the raw material a journalist works with. Other sources – documents, observation. These other sources also often require interviews to produce a complete story. Preparation.

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Obtaining information
Obtaining information

  • Interviews are one of the main sources we have to obtain information, which is the raw material a journalist works with.

  • Other sources – documents, observation. These other sources also often require interviews to produce a complete story.


  • Research the topic or person so you have some familiarity and background. Helps you ask better questions and shows respect for your source.

  • You won’t waste time asking about things that are widely known.

  • Easier to ask productive, interesting questions.

  • You won’t embarrass yourself by appearing ignorant.

Preparation cont
Preparation, cont.

  • More likely to recognize when source says something interesting/newsworthy.

  • Less likely to have to go back and re-interview.

  • Some sources try to manipulate reporters or avoid difficult topics. Research can help a reporter avoid that.


  • In-person is best. Seeing you helps put source at ease, and you can notice things – gestures, etc.

  • More natural way of conversing.

  • In-person is even more important if the source doesn’t deal with the media very often. Can calm the source’s nerves.

  • Phone OK if you have to, or if it’s a source you commonly talk to on your beat.

  • Email interview only as a last, worst resort.


  • Best possible source for the story you are working on.

  • Looking for a source with knowledge, expertise and insight relevant to your story.

  • Actual person working on a project is better than a PR rep.

What to ask
What to ask

  • Interviewers should have a tentative central point in mind as they plan a story – the “what.”

  • Once you figure that out, and have done your background research, think about what you need to find out from the source.

What to ask cont
What to ask, cont.

  • Jot down a few questions. Don’t think of those as a script, though.

  • LISTEN to the answers and ask other questions accordingly. Your story may change.

  • Save difficult or potentially embarrassing questions for the end of the interview.

Conducting the interview
Conducting the interview

  • Conversational approach.

  • Small talk at the start to put the source at ease.

  • LISTEN. Very important.

  • Sources don’t like to be badgered/pushed. Hostile source? Try to find out why.

Conducting the interview cont
Conducting the interview, cont.

  • Keep interview on track.

  • Don’t ever deceive source about purpose of interview. It’s unethical.

  • At the end, ask if there’s anything they have to add or you may have forgotten to ask about.

Playing dumb
Playing dumb

  • Of course, you’ve done your research.

  • But sometimes it helps to “play dumb.” Have the person explain something to you in their own words.

  • Can be helpful in explaining to readers.

  • Maybe you didn’t understand?

  • Can put interviewee at ease … also shows you are interested in what they have to say

Taking notes
Taking notes

  • Figure out a way to write quickly. Abbreviate?

  • People speak faster than you can write – focus on getting down important direct quotes, jot down other facts.

  • Ask a “throwaway” question if you have to.

  • Two pens.

Taking notes cont
Taking notes, cont.

  • Email interviews – generally discouraged. Doesn’t allow for candid answers, can lead source to carefully script response and leave it lifeless.

  • Phone interview – if you are going to type your notes while doing a phone interview, tell the source. Can sound strange on the phone.

Taking notes one more
Taking notes, one more

  • Voice recorders – good to use, but can fail. Still take notes. Also, don’t over quote. Make sure source knows they are being recorded.

  • Review your notes immediately when you get back to your office, while interview is fresh on your mind.

How many sources
How many sources?

  • Depends on the story, deadline pressure, expertise of sources, controversy of topic, complexity of topic.

  • As many as it takes to prepare a complete report.

  • No matter how many sources you talk to, you must evaluate the sources – are they credible? Are they knowledgeable? Do they have an ax to grind?

Direct quotes
Direct quotes

  • Use them when someone says something unique.

  • Or they say something in a unique way.

  • Important, significant information.

  • Can provide color and spice for a story.

  • Accuracy is quite important. If you aren’t sure you’ve got the quote down accurately, don’t use it.


  • Did I mention listening? It’s very important when it comes to conducting interviews.

  • Pay attention. You aren’t sure what the source is going to say. What they say may change your approach/line of questioning.