December 11, 2019 (Updated )
You’ve finally secured a great expert to interview and it’s going to make your piece shine. So, erm what do you now?
As a journalist, if you’ve sourced an expert that’s crucial for your article, you need to make sure you can get the most out of your time with them.
Whether you’re speaking to the Prime Minister or a local business owner, getting it right is vital – and a bad interview can tank a great piece. Here’s how to get it right every time.
First Things First, Nail The Format
You probably don’t need telling, but interviews can take place in a number of different formats. The most popular method are through a phone call, a face-to-face interview, or via email.
Each has its pros and cons, so make sure to work out the best method for you and your interviewee in advance. Here’s our take.
If you’re tight for time, an interview over email is good for getting your interviewee’s words ready to go in your article. Especially if you just want a quick quote or comment, then it’s definitely the most convenient and it also makes following up a lot easier as things are all written down.
However, emails are time consuming, especially for the people writing the answers. It can mean a lot of back and forth, especially if you’re not quite sure what you’re hoping to get out of them, and leave you feeling frustrated if you’ve got a deadline.
It can also make the interview process a lot less personal and conversational, meaning you won’t get any bonus answers, and the tone won’t feel as natural.
Face To Face
It goes without saying that this is the most engaging way to interview someone, as you can measure their body language and facial expressions, something which is especially helpful when dealing with sensitive topics.
It’s also a great way to build up a relationship with someone, giving them a face behind the person writing their words up.
However, as with all good things, there are drawbacks. Especially in a busy newsroom, or when chatting to someone quite busy, time can be scare and taking an hour out isn’t possible. Think about how sensitive or vital the interview is, and how you could develop the contact.
And, finally, the middle ground! A phone call is great for building up a story or case study and creating more cues for further questions that might be relevant.
Deciding on a phone call can also save you a lot of time in the long run, as you’re able to schedule and control how long you’re chatting, while letting things flow naturally.
While you might choose to stay on the line with a chatty interviewee, they’re much less chance it will drag on like an unclear email chain.
Have A List Of Key Questions
First and foremost, make sure to have a list of key questions you can refer back to during the interview.
It might sound obvious, but it’s a crucial way of giving your conversation some structure. And, as an aside, you’d be surprised how many journalists just try to wing it.
A endless stream of interviewees on tap…
This content was kindly supported by our partners at JournoLink – and they’re experts at finding the perfect person for your feature.
Even if you do end up drifting off on some side tangents, this will also force you to do your research beforehand.
What kinds of things have they talked about before? What’s their career history? Do they have particularly strong views on some things? It’s all stuff that’s easily Google or LinkedIn-able – and will give an extra depth to your piece.
Don’t be afraid to keep referring back to the sheet for structure either – it’s easy for chat to drift and flow during conversation, so make sure you keep your key questions in mind when interviewing.
Ask About Their Backstory
Every person has a backstory. Make sure to ask about theirs.
Some may be more interesting than others, but regardless, it’ll help you to put everything they’re saying in context, as well as helping to build a genuine connections.
Think about both their business backstory and their personal journey, something which often crosses over.
Whether you’re asking them about how they got into the profession or their family history, more often than not you’ll find a gem.
Perhaps your medical expert is a refugee who decided to carry on their family tradition, or maybe was a former banker before changing profession.
Even if it isn’t useful for your current piece, knowing a bit more about them is a useful tool for future pieces and relationship building.
Make It Conversational
We’ve all had awkward conversations. Make sure your interview isn’t like that. Taking a conversational tone helps to create a more confessional environment.
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It sounds simple, but at at the start of every interview, make sure you take the time to introduce yourself and your publication, as well as what you are looking to write about or research.
By creating a conversational environment, you’re way more likely to find out something more intimate and interesting.
Allow the interviewee to do the majority of the talking and listen hard. Engage in the conversation but do not take lead.
Create Interview Notes
And finally, if you’re planning on a face-to-face interview, make sure you keep an accurate recording or notes as to exactly what’s been said. Ideally, both if you can.
If you got shorthand as part of your journalism training, now’s the time to whack it out. While a recording might be more accurate than your note taking, it can take longer to transcribe.
Tools like Otter.ai can help (and are free), but jotting down key points or things of interest can help you navigate your way through an audio file later on.
Similarly, your note book is also able to capture things your phone recorder can’t, such as mannerisms or facial expressions, for example.
Adding expert commentary or case studies to a piece can really help its sense of legitimacy, so make sure you get the most out of your time. If done right, it can do wonders for your article.
This sponsored piece was produced in partnership with JournoLink, a service which helps to seamlessly link journalists with small business experts when they need them.