Conducting interviews can be one of the most intimidating aspects of working in journalism, even if you’re a seasoned professional. For new journalists, learning how to conduct a good interview is essential to building their future careers.
Regardless of how long you’ve worked in journalism, there’s always room to hone your interview skills. We’ve put together some tips on how to perfect those journalism skills.
Research the Interview Subject and Topic
Usually, you’ll have learned about your interview subject ahead of time so that you can be sure they are the right fit for the topic. Once you’ve secured the interview, you’ll want to take some more time to “get to know” your subject. Review any other interviews they’ve done recently, so you can get an idea of their speaking style, questions they’ve been asked before, and the like.
Also, make sure you have a good grasp of the interview topic. You don’t need to be an expert on the subject, but you should be able to ask well-informed questions.
Organize the Interview Details
How and when the interview takes place might seem like overly obvious details, but failing to arrange everything properly won’t help you make a good first impression on your subject. Decide how you’ll conduct the interview – will it be in person, via phone, or video conference?
Once you’ve confirmed the interview method, communicate all relevant information to your subject, including the data and time, an address (if needed), or your phone number/meeting link. You can also set up a calendar invite as an extra reminder for you both.
Communicate Clear Expectations
Outlining expectations for the interview benefits both you and your subject. Explain the focus of the interview and why you’re interested in talking with them. By giving them an idea of what questions and subject matter they can expect, you’ll allow them to show up better prepared.
Also, provide them with a time estimate for the interview, ensuring that your interview won’t inadvertently be cut short.
Brainstorm Interview Questions
As any skilled journalist will tell you, a great interview isn’t one in which you’re reading questions from a pre-written script. However, you do want to have some key questions ready to ask. These questions are the ones you’ll need answered to cover the topic at hand properly.
Here are a few useful tips for writing interview questions:
- Aim for open-ended questions rather than “yes or no” questions.
- Ask the subject to provide specific examples or information.
- Don’t be afraid to ask challenging (but respectful) questions.
- At the end of the interview, ask the subject if there is anything else important that hasn’t been covered.
Warm Up With the Basics
When the interview begins, start with a few basic questions. The purpose of this is two-fold: you’ll be able to confirm key information immediately, and you and your subject can get more comfortable with each other.
Ask them to confirm the spelling of their name, as well as any other relevant information.
Be an Active Listener
One of the most common interviewing mistakes is rattling off questions without listening to the subject’s response. As an active listener, you’ll be better able to respond to their answers accordingly. Actively listening can open the door to improvised questions, which can help you gain deeper insight.
Use a recording device if possible, so you aren’t focused on trying to write down their every word. Make sure you’ve asked their permission to record.
Keep the Interview on Track
The interviewer is in charge of the conversation, and it’s your responsibility to take the lead. Respectfully steer the conversation when needed, and be mindful of rambling or unrelated tangents.
Get Comfortable with Pauses
After you ask a question, the pause that follows might feel like it lasts a lifetime. However, being okay with somewhat awkward pauses is a necessity for journalists. Not only does this allow your subject ample time to formulate their answer, but it can also allow you to get answers to tough questions successfully.
Prepare for a Career in Journalism Now
When it comes to learning how to conduct an interview, journalism education and training are a must. At the Beonair Network of Media Schools, with campuses located in Miami, Chicago, Colorado, and Ohio, our Radio & TV Broadcasting program teaches students what it’s like to work in a studio – and provides them with the skills they need to succeed.
Learn more about how to become a journalist when you contact our team today!