Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Interviewing tips for journalists

Posted by youngjournalists07 on February 1, 2012 at 7:30 AM Comments comments (0) 
Picture: Mediahelpingmedia

(MediaHelping Media) - Always be polite, know what you want, do your research, listen to the person you are interviewing and remain alert for unexpected news angles - just a few tips for getting a strong interview.

Thefollowing module was written for media trainers at the Media Resources and TrainingCentre (MRTC) in Jaffna, Sri Lanka, whorequested some tips for their students on how to prepare for and conduct aninterview.

 The MRTC runs various journalism diploma courses. It isattached to the University of Jaffna. This module, and twodozen others have been translated into Tamil and will be used to train localjournalism students at both the MRTC and the university.

Interviewingtips for journalists

1: Always bepolite
When you request an interview you are asking someone togive their time so that you can gather information for a news story. You mustremain polite throughout the interview and at the end thank them. Members ofthe public are under no obligation to agree to be interviewed, and you have noright to intrude on their privacy without their consent.
However public figures are expected to be accountable;your interview is a way for their actions to be scrutinised, although even theyare under no obligation to agree. They may have reasons for avoiding you andyour questions. So you need to understand that obtaining an interview isnever guaranteed and, when someone agrees to be interviewed, youneed to be civil and treat them with respect. Remain polite throughout the interview

2: Don't show youremotions
Whatever you feel about what the interviewee says, try toavoid agreeing or disagreeing or showing signs of approval or disapproval. Ifyou are a TV reporter avoid nodding or shaking your head, smiling or frowningwhen an answer is given. Your job is to report on the topic you are covering objectivelyand not get involved emotionally.It's natural to be affected by news, but a professionaljournalist will be true to their job of uncovering and producing facts. You must remain objective at all times

3: Be clear onwhat you want
Tell the interviewee what you want to talk about and why.Be honest about the context at the outset. You should not - other than inexceptional cases where you feel information cannot be obtained any other way–interview on false pretences. If you feel this is needed to get to the truthof the matter you must consult a senior editor before going ahead. Never conduct an interview under false pretences

4: Don't provide a script
Although it’s important to give an interviewee fairwarning of the areas you want to cover, you must never set out the questions asa list and hand them over. To do so would be turning the interview into apublic relations exercise. If you give the interviewee enough time to prepareyou may produce a better, more informative interview. Don't let your interview turn into a PR exercise

5: Respond to newsangles
Make it clear that, although the interview is for aparticular purpose, you may ask supplementary questions if anything unexpectedarises. If during an interview, a new piece of information is revealed that isof interest, you need to be able to follow it up. That’s why it’s important togive the interview an outline only rather than limiting yourself to setquestions. Listen out for the unexpected and act on it

6: Do yourresearch
Make sure you know your facts before you carry out theinterview. You owe it to the person you have arrange to talk to, and to youraudience, to be as informed as you possibly can – you must not waste the timeof the interviewee – or your audience. There is nothing more embarrassing thanmaking a silly mistake or being corrected by the interviewee. You should alsospend enough time researching the background of the interviewee, as well as thetopic being covered. It may help you understand why they say what they do. You must know what you are talking about

7: Don't bejudgemental
Even if you think the interviewee is in the wrong, youhave to treat the person with respect. A reporter should not be swayed by theirgut feelings. You should always remain objective, fair and impartial, whateverthe topic and no matter how you feel about what is being said. What you feeldoesn’t matter, you are paid to report. Your opinion doesn't count, what is said counts

8: Don't try toappear clever
An interview is about uncovering facts that, had it notbeen for your interview, may never have surfaced. It is not about making youlook and sound great. If you try to be smart, members of the audience may sensethis and you may lose their respect. It could also lead to tension in yourinterview that could distract. If you try to look smart you could alienate the audience and the interviewee

9: Pay attention
Never be so engrossed in thinking about your nextquestion that you fail to hear the previous answer. It is extremely annoyingfor a journalist to ask a question that has just been answered. Equally, it isembarrassing for a journalist to fail to pick up on a line given in theprevious answer. Your audience will know you are not listening, and, if it isan important point you missed they will feel let down by you. Listen to the interviewee at all times

10: Don't fidgitand fiddle
Try to avoid anything that could distract from what isbeing said. Move papers, pens, cups etc out of reach of both the intervieweeand you. Also, try to avoid sitting on chairs with wheels or chairs that rock -this can also be distracting. Avoid obstacles between you and the interviewee,such as a large desk; it creates barriers. Ask the interviewee to sit in acomfortable relaxed position so that they can concentrate on your questions andgiving their answers. Avoid anything that could distract from what is beingsaid

11: Check foroutside noises
Check for external sounds that could disrupt the flow.The exception is where the noise is part of the story. The last thing you wantto do is return to the studio with a great interview in terms of the contentbut which is unfit for broadcast. Avoid anything that could distract from what is beingsaid

12: Summing up
Try to sum up the main points of the interview at theend. It’s a way of confirming any news angles that were raised during theinterview and also a nice way to end the interview. The last words should always be thanks.

The text above is available on Slideshare and released under Creative CommonsBY-SA-NC, which means it can be downloaded for non-commercial and attributionmust be given. Thanks
Note: Theimage used at the top of this page is adapted from an photograph taken by MediaHelping Media and is one of a set available under theCreative Commons.

The author of this piece, David Brewer, is a journalist and media strategy consultant who set up and runs this site, Media Helping Media. He delivers media strategy training and consultancy services worldwide andhis business details are at Media Ideas International Ltd.

He tweets @helpingmedia

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