Monday, 23 November 2015

Interviewing Tips For Journalists

For me, one of the most nerve-wracking things about starting out as a journalist last year was the thought of interviewing actual real life people. At first, everything about it panicked me - would I ask the right questions? Would my dictaphone break? Could I actually stand to listen to the sound of my own voice for more than 30 seconds when I transcribed it afterwards?

Luckily, it wasn't anywhere near as bad as I thought. Now I know I'm not yet a seasoned writer, and still pretty much a newbie in the grand scheme of things, but some of the lessons I've learned from seasoned writers have proved completely invaluable. They've seen me through interviewing celebrities, childhood heroes, grieving parents and business owners, led to some amazing scoops and (most importantly) helped people share their stories.

So if you're starting out in journalism too, or just find the thought of interviews as scary as I did, read on for the top five things I've learned so far:

1. Do your homework.
Prep before an interview is essential. Write up your questions in advance and research your interview subject on Google and social media. Not only does this stop you from asking someone the wrong questions, knowing something about the person you're speaking to is a great ice breaker and will often make them feel more at ease.

2. Have a goal in mind.
This isn't about asking leading questions or maneuvering someone into saying what you want, but knowing what you want your story to be about -  what do people really want to know? What is the message of the piece you're writing? Having something in mind really helps when you're thinking of questions to ask them. Plus when your questions are more specific, the answers are usually more interesting.

3. Be flexible.
It's normally a good idea to ask your questions in order of importance - if your interview gets cut short for any reason, you'll still have got the information you really want. Having said this, try not to be too rigid. If someone says something you'd like to know more about - just ask them! And don't be afraid to mix up the order of questions if it means the conversation will flow easier.

4.  Get to the point.
When it comes to your questions, keep them as clear and concise as possible. If you say something in a roundabout way, or ask three questions at once, it all gets a bit lost in translation. Ask one question at a time and say what you want to say, be direct! Don't be abrupt with people though - never interrupt someone when they're speaking as you may lose out on some really interesting info.

5. Ask these questions.
Whenever possible, ask open questions. Some people are naturally less talkative than others, and this will stop them from giving short "yes" or "no" answers to everything. Right at the end of the interview, always ask your subject if there's anything else they'd like to talk about. I learned this tip on my NCTJ course and it is pure gold. Sometimes people will come out with something amazing that they haven't told anything else. A lot of great headlines in history have come from the journo asking this question.
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