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30 Tips on How to Interview Like a Journalist

on November 7, 2011

As a 16-year tech journalist and founder of a brand journalism business, I’ve conducted tons and tons of interviews. While I have “lots of experience” I also realize it’s a synonym for “I’m getting stale.” In an effort to reboot my interview style, I decided to look for inspiration from other journalists.

This article began with me questioning fellow journalists for their best advice on how to interview. What follows is some of my own advice, but a ton more from industry colleagues on how to conduct a journalistic interview for print, blog, radio, TV, and films.

UPDATE (09-25-17): Given the popularity of this post I decided to dedicate one episode of Content Marketing Tips to just this subject. Watch the video and read on.

TIP 1: Find a good interviewee

D’uh, right? When you do have control of who you’re interviewing, seek out a good subject. You’ll never know just by looking at them, so ask around. Sometimes a PR person will help you. If you’re shooting video ask who is dynamic on camera.

“The truth is that some people have a good story to tell on a subject, and others don’t. Some people are naturally talented at being interviewed, and others aren’t. If you find a good interviewee, you won’t need all the other tips,” said copywriter Star Zagofsky.

TIP 2: It’s your job to research

This was the most oft repeated advice, when it’s possible. In many of my run-and-gun style interviews, I don’t know who I’m interviewing until I meet them. But, I do know the event I’m going to and I can research that.

In the cases when you do know who you’re going to interview, know the answers to basic questions such as the individual’s background, hot topics, what the person has worked on, currently working on, and what they’re trying to promote. If the information isn’t readily available online, ask their PR rep or publicist, if they have one.

When you exhibit your knowledge “the person knows you took the time to do so and they then provide a much better interview,” explained journalist Joan Wenner.

“The value of doing a tremendous amount of research is being able to ask questions very few others have done. This alone sets you apart from the rest and can win you not only a subject’s respect and attention, but material no one else has ever gotten,” said author Caitlin Kelly.

While being prepared is generally good advice, Larry King has repeatedly said in interviews that he never researched his subjects. I don’t  believe those claims.

TIP 3: Let your preconceptions go or not?

Being prepared is good advice for any job, but you need to leave room for discovery, or shouldn’t you? I got conflicting advice from journalists who suggested you start with the end in mind or know at least 80 percent of the story before you even begin.

“Know the outcome you want in advance and let that outcome drive the questions asked,” advised journalist Rachel Franco. “What are the main objectives of the piece being written and what questions do you need to ask to arrive at those objectives?”

This is good advice if you just need to finish your piece quickly and plug in some quotes. But the problem with this interviewing and production process is you end up publishing your preconceived notion as to what the story is. You’re not giving the story any room to grow.

Conversely, if you do your research but not force any guidance and just listen, the story can take many surprising twists and turns.

“Journalists need to learn how to make their minds blank. Don’t have any preconceived notions of how you’re writing the story,” said marketing sociologist, Richard Kelleher. “You keep your mind open and you learn so much more. You never know.”

TIP 4: Make them comfortable

Almost everyone who offered up advice talked about the importance of making the interview subject feel comfortable. There are many ways to do this, and it helps to do as much as you possibly can. Place them in a comfortable location with friendly surroundings. Be professional and friendly – not pushy. Let them know if you’re a fan. And when all else fails, tease them a little bit.

Steve Calechman, journalist for Men’s Health will joke with his subjects early on to loosen them up. For example, at the beginning of the interview he asks for their title. If it’s really long he’ll say, “Well thanks for the time. That’s all I needed.” A quick relaxing laugh and both are ready for the interview.

TIP 5: Small talk

Still running on the “Make them comfortable” theme, many journalists advised a little “small talk” upfront or to throw out a few “softballs” to begin the interview. A “softball” question is simply a non-challenging question that often gives the person license to brag about themselves or their work.

Author Karen Jones of “Death for Beginners” throws away her first question.

“You don’t really care about the answer, you just try to get the person loose and comfortable with you,” said Jones.

If you’re lucky enough to land multiple interviews with a key subject, organizational communications expert Cory Kelly suggests you don’t get into your tough questions until later.

“The more rapport you have with your source the more likely you are to get him/her to cough up the sweet stuff every journalist dreams of getting,” said Kelly. “So don’t rush in with the big guns unless absolutely necessary.”

TIP 6: Do not send out questions beforehand

I get a lot of debate on this subject, but if you’re conducting an interview on camera, please do not send out questions beforehand. Doing so will ruin the final product. Here’s why:

An on-camera interview is not just about the words a person says, but how they say them. (click to tweet)

Often the way the interviewee responds is more powerful than the words themselves.

If you send questions before an on-camera interview, you will never have the opportunity to see an emotional response. (click to tweet)

For video, you desperately want emotional responses. If you can evoke emotion in your interview subjects, that in turn evokes emotion in your audience.

Triggering emotion is what gets people to share content online. (click to tweet)

For more, check out my article on Forbes or watch this video from the Content Marketing Tips YouTube series:

If your interview is not on camera, then it rarely matters unless the story you’re doing requires a true “reaction” to the question you’re asking.

TIP 7: Let them know what you’re going to do

When I conduct an interview I let them know what I want out of the interview, how long it’s going to be, and where it’s going to be published. This is all important information as to how they frame their answers (e.g., Answer in a sound bite or long form?) and the interviewee knows the audience they’re speaking to (e.g., Is it a general audience or an industry-specific audience?).

“If they’re plugging their book (or movie, etc.) tell them the ground rules about how you plan to work the mention, website, etc. into the interview so they don’t have to look for an opening to plug it, which can throw off the flow,” said Robert Dolezal, CEO of Consultiq.

TIP 8: Warn them of the bright lights

I shoot a lot of video interviews and I use a very bright light. Like moths to a flame, almost every subject will stare right into the light if I don’t warn them. So I do warn them just before I turn on the light.

But I can’t just say, “Don’t look at the light” because they won’t know where else they should look. Since I like to do a lot of first-person point-of-view (POV) interviews, I’ll say, “Look into the lens, don’t look at the light” and then I’ll turn on the light.

TIP 9: Ask to spell and pronounce their name and title

Ask the interview subject how to spell and pronounce their name even if you’ve seen it in print and heard it on TV.

“It might be Journalism 101, but I take nothing for granted and it seems to build a trust and confidence,” said Steve Calechman.

TIP 10: Establish reciprocity

There’s a great scene in the movie “Tin Men” in which a young aluminum siding salesman is learning the tricks of gaining the trust of a potential customer. The old successful salesman explains that when no one is looking drop $5 on the ground. Wait for your “mark” to discover the $5 and say, “I think you dropped this,” to which you’ll respond, “I know it’s not mine, it must be yours.” That small investment, and showing real concern for the potential customer, generates an enormous level of trust.

Similarly, Cory Kelly has a trick to “get the interviewee to give you something…anything. I’ve acted like my pen was broken just to get one from an interviewee. Instant investment.”

TIP 11: Record the interview

I’m always stunned when I meet a journalist I highly respect who doesn’t record their interviews. As someone who can type incredibly fast, I still can never get all the quotes correct. You must record your interviews for many reasons:

  • It’s the ethical thing to do – Your notes are never going to be 100 percent accurate nor is your memory. When you don’t record the interview, you will get the quotes wrong.
  • You can actually have a conversation – If the subject is constantly waiting for you to finish scribbling/typing your notes, it won’t be a natural conversation, and you’ll have a hard time pulling out natural responses.
  • You can focus on the subject – You need to be looking at the subject when you’re interviewing them. If you’re constantly looking at your notepad or computer, you can’t do that.
  • You reduce the fear of being misquoted – “Fear of being misquoted is a key resistance people have to being interviewed,” said Susanne M. Alexander, Relationship & Marriage Coach at Marriage Transformation. “To help people relax and talk to me, I run a tape recorder and I assure the person that I’m taping to be able to quote him or her accurately.”

TIP 12: Don’t let them answer off mike

“If it is a ‘live’ interview, don’t discuss the main subject before going on the air, as the spontaneity will likely be gone when the mike is live,” said Bill Jones, actor and radio personality.

This is good advice for any interview, live or not, especially if it’s being recorded on audio or video. Before I conduct a video interview, I’ll chat with the subject as to what we should discuss. If we hit on a subject quickly, and they’re excited about it, they’ll just start launching into their answer. I will quickly yell, “Stop! Let’s get this on camera” as I know they’ll only be able to give me one good passionate response.

TIP 13: Test your equipment

Every journalist makes this mistake once.

You record an interview, so excited you got some superstar on tape, and then you go back to listen or watch only to realize you screwed up something simple and you’ve got nothing. Everyone has done this. We hit ourselves and then learn from our mistake. We never do it ever again.

Try to avoid that one bad mistake and always test your equipment. Make sure it’s recording properly. Do a ten-second recording of your own voice and play it back. If everything looks and sounds good, you’re good to go. And repeat your testing throughout the day. Simple things like mike jacks falling out can happen and you end up recording nothing.

TIP 14: Know your equipment cold

When you’re setting up for an interview and the interviewee is sitting there waiting, make it clear you know what you’re doing. If you’re fumbling with your equipment or taking too long to setup the interviewee is going to be understandably very nervous. I’ve been on the receiving end of that kind of unprofessionalism and it never turns out well, ever. Be professional not just with your demeanor, but your equipment. It should be an extension of your body and you should know how to use it and operate it quickly. I do a lot of “run and gun” style interviewing and if my camera is off, I must know my equipment well enough to be able to record within seconds.

TIP 15: Ask open ended questions

Many of the journalists I spoke to talked about the importance of asking open ended questions such as, “Tell me what you saw” or “Why was that a tough decision?” Avoid questions that solicit a yes/no answer. They’ll never provide any insight.

Journalist Sandra Lamb will often quote the interviewee, “You said, ‘…’ and then ask, “Why do you believe this to be true?”

TIP 16: Don’t try to fill the void

Long form interviewing requires a lot of patience. If you traditionally do quick “got to get the sound bite”-style interviews, you may become frustrated with long form interviews.

“Unless you’re live, let them answer the question before you interrupt,” said Robert Dolezal. “Listen to their answer rather than read your question list.”

“Don’t be tempted to fill the void with another question if there is silence, give the subject time to answer,” advises Leslie Lowes, producer at Penultimate Productions.

Self-proclaimed washed-up journalist Karen Gutierrez adds, “What the subject says in that moment could be the best part of the interview.”

TIP 17: Ask the reflection question

Most of my interviews are with people in technology industries that are trying to accomplish something. Any attempts in technology are always fraught with unseen difficulties and wonderful surprises. Two great questions that I ask, that require reflection are “What were some of the unexpected hurdles” and “What were some of the unexpected benefits?”

Similarly, I’ve heard Jesse Thorn, host of “The Sound of Young America” advise the use of a “looking back” question. He’ll ask a successful person, “Looking back at where you were when you started this journey, where did you think it was going to lead you?”

TIP 18: Ask questions for which you already know the answer

“Don’t necessarily ask questions about things you can find out on your own, but don’t necessarily shy away from a simple question that may yield a great quote or sound bite,” said journalist Rachel Franco.

I will often prep a question with, “I think I know the answer to this question, but I want to hear your take on it” because even if I do know the answer, I won’t have the interviewee’s insight on it until they answer it themselves.

TIP 19: The interview is a conversation with you

If you’re doing a long form interview, you want to transition from a formal interview to making the subject feel they’re having a normal conversation.

“Make it seem they are only speaking to YOU,” said Bill Jones, “Look the person in the eye.”

To get that natural conversation moment, Star Zagofsky noted how Ira Glass, host of “This American Life,” gets very involved with the story.

“He’s not afraid to interject or put his gut reaction on display,” said Zagofsky. “Instead of asking something like, ‘So what happened next?’, he’d ask something like, ‘Wait, wait…so you were huddled there, and what was going through your mind?’”

TIP 20: Reboot an interview

I loved this technique recommended by Jesse Stanchak, editor of SmartBrief on Social Media:

“If an interview is going badly, I’ll sometimes try to reboot it by thanking the participant for their time, and engaging in a little small talk about when the article is running, other projects they’re working on, etc. I’ll try to keep the small talk going for a little while longer than I would normally. Then I’ll say, ‘Actually, I thought of one more question for you, can we go back on the record for moment…’ Most of the time, they’re more cooperative in the second go around, after they’ve spent a few minutes talking to me as a person. Even though I’ve told them we’re back on the record, it’s often hard for the subject to get their shields 100 percent of the way back up. Of course, there is a very small chance for this technique to backfire, as the subject can always say they’ve got to run when I ask if we can go back on record.”

TIP 21: Ask about feelings

“If you want your interviewee to be expressive, ask about feelings,” said Andy Wasley, Editor of So So Gay magazine. “How do you feel about x? What was it like to do y?”

“Always remember to ask why. Why do you do what you do? What motivates you,” said Karen Gutierrez. “Sometimes the answer seems so obvious you may forget to ask. Yet if you don’t, you’ll find a hole in your story later. It’ll be missing its soul.”

TIP 22: For revealing interviews, share your story first

Carren Strock interviewed more than 100 women for her book, “Married Women Who Love Women.” She found that by sharing her own story, the women were more comfortable to share their story which resulted in excellent interviews.

“Some women even confided to me that they’d never told their therapists as much as they had told me,” said Strock.

TIP 23: Throw a curve ball

When my company Spark Media Solutions got the assignment to cover IndyCar Racing, I was very excited, but then realized we were going to hit a difficult challenge. My reporter, Pat Mauro, and I quickly realized we were asking the same questions to drivers over and over again. We needed some more original questions.

Jesse Zitrin, a Ballpark Enterprise Manager for Juma Ventures, says that in sports the questions grow very routine as the same events are repeated regularly.

“But most ballplayers tell us they’ve never been asked questions before about which teammates should go on ‘Dancing With the Stars,’ or what’s in their iPod during workouts, or what rule they’d make as commissioner,” said Zitrin. “In short, think about what they’re likely asked all day, then find something from a different, more imaginative angle.”

TIP 24: Repeat back the story in the middle of the interview

With the writing I have to do for tech industry trade publications, I’m often listening to and then in my writing regurgitating very complicated technical processes. While the person who is telling the story understands what he’s saying, they may not fill in all the blanks when they’re telling their story. Often as we’re part-way through an explanation, I’ll pause the interview and say, “Let me repeat back to you what you just said to me, to make sure I understand.” This is a really good exercise as it requires the interviewee to listen to their own explanation and see if they’ve left anything out. Which they almost always do. But it’s also a good exercise for the interviewer because if you’re lost halfway through, you’ll be fumbling, tuned out, or not know what question to ask next.

TIP 25: Repeat questions in different ways

Steve Calechman offers up this advice for getting the best information out of your subject:

“I find that good information doesn’t necessarily come at first, so I’ll ask the same question in a different way a few times. I also don’t mind asking obvious questions if I don’t know or understand something. In both instances, I’ll qualify myself with, ‘I know that I asked you this before,’ or ‘This might be a stupid question.’ If I recognize my cluelessness, I find that people are more than happy to help out and appreciate that I’m trying to be thorough.”

TIP 26: Get them to talk about what they really love

Before the interview begins, Mark Grimm of Mark Grimm Communications likes to probe ahead of time to find out where their passion lies. He’ll ask simple questions such as “So what do you do for fun?” or “What makes you really happy?” to help guide his questioning.

Karen Jones finds that musicians and athletes will have a hobby and “asking about this hobby can lead to answers about who they are as people.”

TIP 27: Trick them into getting the sound bite you want

“If you want something very specific it’s sometimes necessary to use a bit of cunning,” said Andy Wasley. For example, he’ll ask, “Would you say that this was the best event you’ve been to?” If the subject answers, “Yes” then your copy can read, “(The subject) said it was the best event he/she had been to.”

TIP 28: Let the interviewee ask their own question

At the very end of your interview, after you’ve asked all your questions, ask one final question.

“Is there anything else you would like to add?”

Susanne Alexander claims this technique almost universally results in the interviewee providing the best quote.

TIP 29: Let the interviewee review the article for accuracy or don’t

As a journalist we’re always striving to provide the most accurate information possible. So often, after seeing an article in print, people will complain about being misquoted or the information being wrong.

Letting someone review your piece before publication is a highly debatable subject as giving over your article to the subject for review may cause it to lose its actual journalistic flair. But at the same time, if it’s wrong, it won’t be journalistic at all. It’ll simply be wrong and that will be far more damaging.

My personal policy is I’ll let subjects, if they ask, review quotes and certain facts I mention in the article. I will not let them review the article. I have though had PR people ask me this and I find that request seriously steps over the line. See my article “How to make sure journalists get your story correct.”

Bill Roth swears by the review process. The result of this best practice, he says, is that 50 percent of the time the review will result in catching an error made by either Roth or by his interviewees.

TIP 30: Practice, practice, practice

“A lot of experience can be gained by practice. Get a recorder and interview some people you know quite well for practice before trying it for real. Listen back and do the next one better. This will help you gain confidence in your technique,” said Leslie Lowes. “You will know when you have done well, because the material you have obtained will tell you that.”

Conclusion: Now what are your tips?

While this is a long list of tips from a lot of great experts, it’s far from an exhaustive list. Remember, I need some advice on how to shake up my own technique. So can you offer up any tips for me and your fellow readers?

Most of the Dice interview photos are courtesy of Robert Martinez.

Creative Commons photo attributions to Internews Network, conservativeparty, Keith Allison, ItzaFineDay, elvisripley, pedrosimones7, ChrisMRichards, chrisschuepp, Robert of Fairfax, and magnusfranklin.

Stock photos courtesy of Shutterstock.

{ 64 comments… read them below or add one }

Scott Plamondon November 7, 2011 at 7:02 pm

“TIP 7: Let them know what you’re going to do” is really effective in helping the interviewee get comfortable with what's about to happen. I also find that it helps you get clear about your first question.

Dave Mathews November 7, 2011 at 9:22 pm

Great post David.  With so many bloggers lacking any sort of journalism education, these are the basics that all aspiring thought provokers should follow.

Andy Wasley November 8, 2011 at 9:47 am

Great article, David; hope the tips help with your 'reboot'!

One question: with 16 years' experience, what's your single best piece of advice on interview technique?

David Spark November 8, 2011 at 4:55 pm

You know, the one tip I have, that I think is the best is ironically not in the article. It didn't dawn on me to add it, but I think the most important quality a journalist can have is aggressiveness with charm. You have to be forceful, but not at the point it's pushy.

Luke Filose November 8, 2011 at 7:28 pm

Great post, David. I loved Terry Gross's recently interview with David Carr who said he liked to warn people when an interview was going to be difficult. “Bring your nut cup” he claims to have told interviewees. What do you think about this tactic for bringing out more energy/passion from someone in a video interview… asking a question in a way that sounds skeptical, like “but why does THAT matter?” I got that tip from a filmmaker friend and wonder if it's effective or could backfire.

keane November 8, 2011 at 9:56 pm

“Test your equipment.”

Oh…. yes.

L Belg2 November 8, 2011 at 10:02 pm

One of my favorite techniques when I'm at the close of an interview is to simply ask my subject, “What haven't I asked you that I should have?” The question itself is mildly flattering to the subject because it suggests I don't pretend to have all the expertise I'd like, and with somewhat more reticent interviewees it opens the door to being more forthcoming.

David Spark November 8, 2011 at 10:17 pm

See tip #28. Claims she gets the best quotes with this question.

David Spark November 8, 2011 at 10:17 pm

What awesome interview did you lose?

David Spark November 8, 2011 at 10:19 pm

If someone isn't giving me what I want, I'll let them know. But unlike many of the interview recommendations in this article, I don't have 20 minutes to an hour when I'm doing video. I have three to five minutes. So I'll cut them off and say, “I'm going to make you look good. Let's try it this way.” When I make it clear I'm going to help them out, they're usually cool rolling with me.

keane November 8, 2011 at 10:35 pm

Half an hour of an interview I did with a popular band. Luckily, this was also before I realized I should limit my band interviews to just one half hour.

Kimberly Reyes November 14, 2011 at 3:01 pm

Is that Avi Savar in the very last photo on this post? It's blurry, but that sure looks like him!

David Spark November 14, 2011 at 5:28 pm

Yep, that's him. I interviewed him at his offices in NYC for an event hosted by Zuberance. Here's the video. http://blog.zuberance.com/even

moncler online November 15, 2011 at 8:52 am

I would like to thank you for the time you
have made in composing this article.

Holly Woerner November 15, 2011 at 4:48 pm

Tip # 28 allowed me to nail even the most tedious of interviews on Capitol Hill when discussing complex and often controversial subject matter. Subjects were often on the defense before the interview started. By allowing the person a chance to add a thought about anything they like leaves them feeling that they've had their say. If you try to shape or spin every question, the interviewee will naturally sense this and will work harder to get their position heard. Those responses often sound forced, and your audience will notice. The open ended question is best posed at the end of the interview, that way the subject concludes the interview on a positive note. As the author mentioned, this tactic rendered my best quotes 99% of the time. Usually, this will be your most candid and comfortable response.

Thomas Gamble November 17, 2011 at 1:46 pm

THANK YOU!!! I so appreciate this site. This is the information I was looking for.

John Vlahovich November 22, 2011 at 3:34 am

I always begin by putting the person being interviewed at ease. An inter iew goes much better when the interviewee is relaxed and able to focus on his/her responses to my questions. When recording a person for a broadcast interview I generally began with some informal conversation before rolling tape. Also, I often find that continuing the conversation after the formal taped interview had ended fleshed things out and gave me valuable background that helped when editing an interview to meet time constraints.

John Sanders August 22, 2012 at 1:28 pm

This is a great list of tips for interviewing! I have used these tips and applied them to my interview process at my company where we interview different employees each week. This list has helped tremendously and our videos have only become better and better.
Here is an example of these tips used in practice: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N7ISV-5OXUo&list=UUWZqMCM9jAMuV0PsRoFOi7Q&index=7&feature=plcp

David Spark August 22, 2012 at 9:52 pm

Awesome job John. And thanks for the kind words. One tip. Frame the person MUCH bigger in the frame. Their head is so tiny when you look at the entire frame of the shot. I see you’re trying to get the logo in the shot. There’s ways to do that to make it larger, or better, you can just create a bug in the corner.

cyclelove September 16, 2012 at 10:16 am

Great list. Will be testing these in the field this week — I’m new to ‘journalism’ but have 3 interviews in a row coming up so need to brush up my skills.

Somehow I had thought it would be rude to record my interviews with people, but now I’m seeing that actually, it would be unprofessional *not* to.

David Spark September 16, 2012 at 10:24 am

Good luck with your interviews. The best way to get a good interview is to be confident in what you’re doing. If you’re truly new, get some practice interviewing friends.

cyclelove September 16, 2012 at 10:29 am

Thanks David :)

I’ve done a few short ones before, these will be longer… I’ll let you know how it goes!

Scott Plamondon November 2, 2012 at 3:05 pm

Excellent tips. I’d single out #7 Letting them know what you’re going to do. 

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Jj February 1, 2013 at 2:25 pm

gooooooooooooooddd for my journalism class !

Jklsbfjsdbfjksdb February 1, 2013 at 2:25 pm

GOOD !

Thatgirl07 February 1, 2013 at 2:25 pm

Good interview tips!

Vasquezjacob85 February 4, 2013 at 9:53 am

Anti nobody have time for dat

Tim February 14, 2013 at 9:39 am

OK, I’m old, so I may see this differently. But when I am being interviewed and someone asks me how I “feel”, I say “Thank you” and walk away. How lame to ask “How do you feel” to someone who just witnessed a tragedy, or someone who lost a family member. This kind of question (in my view) just proves how lazy the interviewer is by not rephrasing the question to get the same answer. Just my view. Thanks for listening.

David Spark February 14, 2013 at 9:27 pm

Tim, not all interviews involve a tragedy or the loss of a family member. In fact, I’ve never conducted one that involved either. I don’t think that’s even mentioned in this article. But in your example, yes that would be rude and most professional journalists don’t do that. 

Regardless, for any event, people have a “feeling” and that’s rarely expressed. It’s quite alright to ask the question because it gets down to deeper issues that are rarely expressed and can show a rather deep human emotion.

Love Miray July 27, 2013 at 9:21 pm

I love this article. One of the things I learned in the process is to always look into the camera… I thought it would be rude to look away from the person I was interviewing. I think eye connection is key.

David Spark July 29, 2013 at 8:29 am

Love, that’s always dependent on what the producer wants. As you can see in many interviews the interviewee is asked to look at the interviewer or to the side of the camera. When I do interviews I like the subject to look into the camera. The answer is to simply as the interviewer where they would like you to look.

Simon Wilcox September 11, 2013 at 6:02 am

Not sure Tim was insinuating that the question would be construed as rude… just unimaginative David. You could get the desired result by asking the question in a different and less mundane way.

BrianC November 6, 2013 at 3:04 pm

Definitely one of the most irritating questions asked. It’s just lazy journalism. No-one cares how they feel. The viewers want to know what happened.

Ralph Smith March 7, 2014 at 4:05 pm

No–you do NOT let the interviewee review the article! That’s unethical and bad journalism. Who wrote this–a PR person for a business?

David Spark March 7, 2014 at 4:12 pm

Ralph, you didn’t read that item. Please read again. It says, “TIP 29: Let the interviewee review the article for accuracy or don’t.” Did you see the word “don’t?” The item questions whether you should or shouldn’t do this. I acknowledge the debate as it challenges journalistic credibility. Plus I have written about when it goes over the line with a link to that article. Some people simply won’t give you an interview unless you let them review their quotes. That’s not letting them review the article. As for who wrote this, I wrote this for my this blog. I don’t work in PR. There is a link to my bio and you can read it for yourself as to who I am.

Cathy Allred May 23, 2014 at 1:48 pm

David – I agree. On highly technical articles, I do share those parts I need checked for accuracy. It’s not an issue of incompetence. We are sometimes only as smart as our source. I will not share an article just because they want to read it before the piece goes to print. NEVER. As for feelings during a crisis, that usually comes out in the interview although I have asked someone how they were doing simply because of concern that they weren’t doing well and needed to 1) get help 2) sit down and do some breathing or 3) or just talk their feelings out before being able to grapple with what happened.

David Spark May 24, 2014 at 6:36 pm

Thanks Cathy. Good points.

Felix A. Montelara September 28, 2014 at 2:07 pm

As part of test your equipment one can add Know how to operate your equipment.

David Spark September 28, 2014 at 5:59 pm

That’s a really good point. :) I was guilty of that once.

Felix A. Montelara September 28, 2014 at 6:11 pm

I once completed an interview of an author new book release on standby mode on my zoom digital recorder… Not my best day.

David Spark September 28, 2014 at 6:13 pm

And you only made that mistake once, right? I believe we all have one colossal mistake like that.

Joshua Murdock October 8, 2014 at 6:20 pm

I was concerned by both of those points until I read the explanation below each one. You perfectly explained what you meant and you specified exactly what is acceptable and what to watch out for. I am a journalism student and am just getting my feet wet in the field. Every single piece of advice is aligned with what I have been taught by multiple instructors. This was a wonderfully helpful article! Thank you.

David Spark October 9, 2014 at 10:41 am

Joshua, either myself and your teachers are right, or we’re all wrong. :)

Joshua Murdock October 9, 2014 at 1:43 pm

I’d definitely say you’re spot on.

robert November 4, 2014 at 10:49 am

“tip 12 says that you need record the interview”.

Lovelyn April 6, 2015 at 3:13 am

I am a second year jounalism student an im supposed to be conducting and interview with a lecturer and im knd of nervous and i freaked out but after reading this it gave me relief so i think i can do the interview

Diane Moonface Dominguez July 23, 2015 at 11:07 am

True , I feel that the question should be reprashed as such in a way the story is told and still not sound like a complete arrogant fool. A reporter / journalist must be compasinate to one’s feelings not just thinking “oh I have a deadline, that is not my style.

Hocking Hick October 28, 2015 at 5:45 am

The best way to interview is by email. It does sometimes lack the pop of the unexpected question and the pressured response, but it absolutely gets everything down. No misquotes. No vagaries. Of course, if your subject has limited abilities to express him or herself in writing, then go with the recorded interview. But I think email always elicits the most thoughtful and encompassing responses. Unless you are only after shock value and are looking for a misstep or misquote.

Jim Robinson October 29, 2015 at 9:07 pm

Great post! Connecticut School of Broadcasting is the perfect place to get the skills needed to start a career in the televisionbroadcasting industry. Here’s a student testimonial that really explains why Connecticut School of Broadcasting should be your first step towards a rewarding broadcasting career. https://youtu.be/WpUw7qLslSY?list=PL507681A5D4CC37D5

Anthony Smith November 22, 2015 at 2:58 pm

Really dude?

dominique windrim January 31, 2016 at 10:06 pm

Hi I have a question, when should I interview the speaker after an event? Right after or the day after?

David Spark January 31, 2016 at 11:13 pm
Dave Mullins March 29, 2016 at 11:46 pm

Sometimes it’s very difficult to get a good interview. I interview a lot of musicians, and often they’ve been doing interviews for the last few weeks, a few hours a day and it’s all about the same thing – their new album, or tour or whatever it is they are promoting that allowed you to get the interview in the first place.

It’s really hard to get them to open up, they might have been on the phone for 4 hours prior to talking to me, and I find that they often jump into phrases and statements they’ve said multiple times already in other, recent interviews. I generally find that once I can get them out of swing the interview opens up – sometimes it’s about finding a new angle – talking to a musician about touring with his family really brought out something special – or talking about the upcoming election has yielded interesting results. But it doesn’t always.

In terms of asking off-beat questions there is a fine line between asking something interesting, and asking something ‘stupid’ something that will just annoy them – and I’ve seen it happen, I’ve read interviews where the interviewee has mocked the interviewer for asking something irrelevant or silly. But, that said, if you’ve done your research you might be able to work out what will get a better response, and what won’t.

David Spark March 30, 2016 at 2:35 pm

We ran into this same issue when we were interviewing race car drivers. We only have them for a few minutes, if that. Sometimes we only get them for a single soundbite. You have to chronically think of something original to ask, and they appreciate it because they’ve run out of different things to say.

Geremy September 7, 2016 at 12:25 pm

@David Spark. I wanted to thank you for a well written article. My name is Geremy and I had to ask a few questions.
1. Any tips for a new journalist?
2. I am pretty new to the game and I was wondering if you knew about any of the legalities about it, or where I could find it? I don’t want to mess this up. It’s going to be a review about an art gallery and a little about the owner. I don’t want to get me or her in trouble. And yes I am recording it by audio.

Alison April 13, 2017 at 11:23 am

Thanks for this useful list! The tip I would add, especially for video interviews where the interviewer is going to be cut out of the final product, is to ask the interviewee to repeat the question in their answer. So if you say, “Tell me about the time you won so and so award” instead of the response being “It was awesome,” the response is “When I won so and so award, it was awesome.” That way you get a complete concept in one bite.

Jim Burnham April 17, 2017 at 8:02 am

I am not a journalism student or a student at all. I’m a photographer, close to 50 and have been asked to interview a friend of mine which will be included as a clip in an interview someone is doing of me. This will be my first public interview and I’m afraid I’m going to fall short on the technology side. I have a DSLR that can support video and a remote stereo mic and my phone has high quality recording. I also have a digital voice recorder. I’m also going to be outside as the topic is a huge wildflower garden. Would you suggest a single mic passed back and forth, or mic both of us separately and layer the voice clips in with the video separately in post? This article helps even if you are not able to answer that, so thank you.

banner em osasco October 25, 2017 at 12:47 am

Um exemplo desse esforço é offsetdigital. https://goo.gl/Y58aNo

Nick January 25, 2018 at 1:26 pm

I just interviewed a musician whose latest album’s narrative surrounds her trip to rehab, sobriety from alcohol, and saying goodbye to a darker part of herself. I’ve been doing this for 15 years now, and since she was so open and honest with other publications, I really wasn’t sweating it too much.

My interview was at night, after she had traveled all day, and she was literally sitting down to dinner at a restaurant during my call with her. And I could NOT get her to open up. I asked multiple questions, left the topic, tried returning to it, and was met with one word or one sentence responses.

I think I’ll be able to pull off a decent story with the press release and info I’ve researched, but I’m trying to figure out what I can learn from the situation. I could’ve been pushier, for sure, but I knew her attention was diverted. It was also a sensitive subject, so I didn’t want to push too far. When I asked if it was challenging to tackle these personal issues in song she said, “It’s harder to talk about it than it was to put it into song,” and that caused me to back off. Maybe that was the moment I should’ve pressed on…but feeling her lack of attention threw me off. I didn’t really care what she would’ve thought had I been more aggressive, I just felt, in that moment, it wasn’t going to happen.

What should I have done? What can I learn here? This isn’t my first rodeo, but I still feel disappointed. Last night, I chalked it up to her schedule and not being into it, but today I’m sort of blaming myself.

Trish Christoffersen April 5, 2018 at 11:50 am

I write articles for our company newsletter but I’m a much better print writer than I am an interviewer. Your tips really helped me form some great questions for a fellow employee that I am set to interview next week. For me, one of the best questions to ask someone that isn’t in the limelight is “Tell me about yourself.” That way it gives them to freedom to say anything about themselves they want without you having to probe as much. Thanks for a great article!

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