Five Simple Ideas for… Better interviews

Written by Evan Blackwell, CJE

One of the most important skills for a young journalist on the yearbook staff to learn is how to conduct effective interviews. Better interviews leads to better information gathered, and that leads to better articles for the book.

Here are five tips to put into practice while interviewing. Using these tips should help you gather better information for when you sit down to write.

1. Ditch the script. The best interviews are conversations. As important as it is to be organized, you do not want to walk into an interview with a list of questions that you never deviate from. How do you know the answers you get will not take you in a different, more interesting direction than what you had planned? It is certainly OK to outline and write down questions you want to make sure get covered, and fall back on in case the conversations lags, but be prepared to go with the flow.

2. Read the room. Do not just interview the person. Take notes on your surroundings. If you are there to interview the principal or athletic director, glance around their office. What pictures are on the walls? What is the person wearing? Not only might these items make nice conversations starters during the interview, they might add some personality and flavor to your article.

3. There is never a dumb question. Always, always, always do your research before showing up to an interview. However, even if you do, just know that somebody, somewhere, will throw you a confusing answer that will throw you for a loop. Do not ever be afraid to politely ask for more explanation of something you did not understand. Not doing so runs the risk of inaccurate information making it in to your story, which is exactly what you do not want. You can even have fun with it, by saying something light, such as “Forgive me if this sounds like a stupid question, but…”

4. Try, try again…in a different way. Maybe you have a question on a sensitive subject that did not generate much of an answer, or did not get answered at all. The best course of action is not to dig in your heels and repeatedly ask the question over and over again. Just relax, move on, and approach the topic again several minutes later in a different way. For example, if you are interviewing the principal about a controversial dress code at the school that led to student protests and he tersely decides not to comment, try coming back later in the interview and asking how he feels about demonstrations of student activism.

5. Transcribe right away. Even though sometimes it is tough, and not always convenient, transcribing your notes immediately after an interview while everything is fresh in your mind is the best practice.

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Evan Blackwell, CJE

Evan Blackwell, CJE, is the Marketing Automation Supervisor for Walsworth. He's been a writer, editor and web content specialist for Walsworth for the past 15+ years, and is the author of the Yearbook Suite's "The Art of the Interview" unit. Prior to joining Walsworth, Blackwell spent five years as an award-winning newspaper and magazine journalist. He holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Kansas.