How to interview

May 4, 2018

 

Interviews are what journalists are best known for.

 

Interviewing people directly involved in a story or those in positions of power is the only way to uncover unique, new information out of an issue and move the discussion forward.

 

Sitting in the office and writing a story with information you got out of the internet is not how good journalists work.

 

Even if you have the best story idea it can definitely be improved by getting out there and asking questions. To be honest it wouldn’t be the best if you hadn’t done this.

 

Quotes give life to a piece and make it much more interesting and relatable to the people who will (hopefully) be reading it.

 

Some of the greatest articles, greatest documentaries and greatest TV programmes were interviews.

 

Background Research

 

Do your research on the topic and person you will be interviewing. Being well prepared before an interview helps you ask the right questions, gives you confidence and can possibly create a new angle that nobody before you has touched upon.

 

Prior communication

 

Try to arrange the interview via phone or if it’s possible in person. Emails are impersonal and easy to ignore. When you talk to someone directly she/he will acknowledge your existence and establishes a first connection.

 

Structure

 

Structure your interview questions that are informed by your background research. It is better to leave tough questions for last. You have to give your interviewees time and space to open up. If you start with a tough question there’s always the chance that the interviewee will just stop the interview and you’ll be left with nothing.

 

Location

 

If you’re filming the interview choose a location that will match the style of your story or the person you’re interviewing. When picking a location, you should consider whether you want your interviewee to feel comfortable or not. For example, when you’re interviewing a politician who is involved in a scandal you wouldn’t want to be at their office, asking questions while they’re sitting behind their big desk and feel all powerful.

 

Similarly, when you’re interviewing someone who has been affected by a tragedy and the interview will bring back unwanted memories, it might be better to interview them where they’ll feel safer.

 

If you don’t want unwanted background noises in your recording/film make sure to avoid public spaces.

 

Test your equipment

 

If you haven’t used your equipment before, practice with it prior to the interview. Also check that your recorder and camera are fully charged. Some cameras have very limited recording time so ideally bring backup batteries.

 

Be punctual

 

Arrive to the location earlier than your interviewee. It will help you get a feel of the place, be more confident and you’ll have time to set up your interview.

 

Also, the interviewee has voluntarily given you their time. Making them wait is just rude.

 

The interview

 

Start with some ice-breakers and leave the tough questions for the end. Be active in the interview and really listen to everything.

 

You will certainly hear about things that you didn’t know and new questions will come up. Go with the flow of the interview and don’t let your prior structure constrain you.

 

Write down the most important information. Try to keep eye contact with the interviewee. Another very important thing that can be easily overlooked is ‘sound effects’. If you like what you’re hearing, nod in agreement, you don’t want to hear yourself in the edit saying “aha”, “yeah”.

 

Filming

 

If you are filming the interview it might be better to bring a partner. It will get your mind of the equipment and allow you to concentrate on the interview. Also, plan your shots before. If you are going to take multiple shots, drawing a storyboard can be very helpful.

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©2018 by Stelios Marathovouniotis