Photo by: Abby Willging

January 15, 2018 / Interviewing/Reporting

Top 7 excuses students give for bad interviews

Written by Evan Blackwell, CJE

Updated by Walsworth Yearbooks

Not every student you bring on to the yearbook staff will be a natural at interviewing sources for stories.

Some kids will naturally be shy or more soft-spoken. Some will gravitate toward using only their friends as sources, even when that doesn’t make the most sense.

Below is list of common excuses you might hear from yearbook reporters, after they’ve had a bad interview and they return with bad information. Fortunately, good interviewing skills can be taught to help counter each of these excuses and help every student on yearbook staff – even the shy, quiet ones – become more confident interviewers.

1.”He/she wouldn’t say anything.”

The best interviews are conversations. As the reporter, the student will be the one asking the questions. But that doesn’t mean an interview needs to be an interrogation. If a source didn’t say anything interesting, it could mean the reporter never broke the ice and put them at ease.

Make the interview a comfortable situation, even if that means starting the interview off with a couple casual off-topic questions that get the ball rolling on the conversation. If you’re interviewing the principal, maybe he/she is an avid golfer and you see pictures of that on the wall. Ask about it. If you’re interviewing a student and they’re wearing an Imagine Dragons shirt, ask how long they’ve been a fan of the band.

2. “I asked her/him to give me a quote, but they wouldn’t.”

Interviews are never as easy as asking somebody to “give me a quote.” At least not if you want to get good, interesting information as a response. Good interviews require preparation and research. Do you know the background of the person you’re interviewing? Or of the topic you’re writing about? How much thought have you given to the questions you want to ask before you arrive to the interview?

3. “I couldn’t think of any questions.”

The same way that yearbook staff get a group together and brainstorm theme ideas or story ideas, a yearbook reporter prepping for an article can also get together with a couple other staffers and brainstorm questions. That means the old “couldn’t think of any questions” excuse shouldn’t ever fly.

Any yearbook staffer trying to use this line is just flaunting that they went into an interview unprepared.

4. “I couldn’t find my questions.”

As mentioned previously, good interviews are conversations with a healthy give and take. But the reporter is the one initiating the conversation by asking the questions and they need to be organized before the interview begins.

While reporters should never strictly follow a script, it’s always a good idea to have some main guidepost questions written down in your notes. These are big-picture topics that you know in advance that you will want to cover.

5. “He/she talked too fast.”

There are a couple easy ways to solve this common complaint. First, learning how to take notes is a critical skill for all journalists. And it will help if you develop your own short-hand. You can’t transcribe every single word a person says. Save the word-for-word transcription for when you hit the important facts, or the interesting comments that you know will make a good quote.

Also, as long as the source is comfortable with it, record the interview. Smartphones have the capability to record hours of interviews, which means reporters can go back and catch every word of an answer, no matter how fast it was.

6. “It was a stupid topic.”

There’s no such thing as a “stupid” topic – only lazy reporting and interviewing. Everyone has a story to tell, it’s just a matter of finding out what it is.

If the story assignment was a profile of a student, did the reporter take the time to meet the source and do an interview in person? Talk to others who know the subject? If the assignment was covering a specific club, team or issue, did the reporter do background research before starting interviews? Did they talk to more than two sources? Brainstorm story angles with yearbook editors or other writers?

7. “They didn’t tell me.”

Reporters are human too. Nobody’s perfect. A question might forget to be asked, or an important piece of information might never come up in an interview.

The way to avoid this is by following all the tips outlined above. Doing background research, arriving with prepared questions which are organized in your notes and breaking the ice to start will all help prevent a situation where interesting information gets missed.

For even more tips and guidance with interviewing, use the “Art of the Interview” unit from Walsworth’s Yearbook Suite curriculum.

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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.