November 29, 2005 / Interviewing/Reporting / Winter 2005

Interviewing Lessons

Written by Idea File Staff

There are as many ways to teach interviewing as there are advisers. Here are two advisers and their methods for teaching interviewing and reporting skills to beginning reporters.

Kathy Craghead, adviser at Mexico High School, Mexico, Mo., uses a group interview technique. First, she has two people, usually editors, conduct an interview before the class.

“I think modeling is important because beginning reporters have no idea how much information they need to collect. I tell them they will only use about 90 percent of what they find out, but they find this incomprehensible,” Craghead said.

Next, she brings in one person for the staff to interview. They are given enough background to compose intelligent questions. Taking turns, each student must ask five questions, and no question can be repeated, which is a mini-lesson in listening.

Craghead prepares the interviewee prior to the questioning session, because she wants them to answer questions as asked, especially yes and no questions.

Several class periods of instruction follow, with discussions about the interview and topics such as open-ended versus fact-finding questions. Then everyone picks what they believe to be the best story-telling quote of the interview – the first one they would use in the story.

“I copy these for everyone or put them in a PowerPoint. I record exactly what they turn in from their notes. Usually, there will not be two exactly the same – which leads to another lesson,” she said.

Then the students select a quote they could use in summation.

“By this time the reporters begin to have strong feelings about the story, so everyone just writes the story. We give second and third runner-up prizes, and the best story gets much glory, and usually gets actually published in the yearbook or newspaper,” Craghead said.

Christina Geabhart, adviser at Oak Park High School, Kansas City, Mo., also uses modeling to teach interviewing. She uses two journalism students to do two interviews – one good, one bad. The bad interview includes poor questions, missing questions, searching in notes to find questions, and uncomfortable pauses. The good interview includes prepared questions and follow-up questions. The interviews are done back-to-back, and the class is asked to compare the two.

To teach reporting last year, Geabhart picked one or two students from the newspaper or yearbook staff to create a short skit. At the beginning of the basic journalism class, as Geabhart discussed reporting skills and warned the students to always be ready for anything, the student actors interrupted the class with their skit. They barged into the classroom, loudly arguing and fighting, then abruptly left. The students were told to write a rough draft, with details such as what were those people doing, wearing and saying.

Geabhart said additional lessons from this would include a follow-up interview of the actors, a rewrite of the story, and an in-class review of everyone’s story with a discussion about accuracy.

This fall, to keep the surprise in the lesson, she had a student pretend to be a famous actress for a class interview.

Geabhart, a former newspaper reporter and second-year adviser, said both lessons with actors went well.

“Students see where they must ask questions to get an accurate story and not just be bystanders and rumor-mongers.”

Idea File Staff

Idea File Staff reports are posts compiled by the Walsworth Yearbooks Marketing Department, covering a wide range of yearbook topics.