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How to conduct an interview in journalism

by Lasse Finderup, Head of Growth at Good Tape1 February 2024
How to conduct an interview in journalism
Lasse Finderup

How to conduct an interview in journalism

If you've ever marvelled at how journalists manage to extract those nuggets of truth and wisdom from their subjects, know this: it's not by accident. The art of conducting a journalism interview is akin to a dance requiring skill, intuition, and charisma.

Journalism is a craft that thrives on its practitioners' curious nature and ability to extract stories that resonate with the audience. At the heart of this craft is the journalistic interview – a tool that, when wielded with finesse, can unfold narratives, uncover truths, and breathe life into the two-dimensional page.

So, let's dive into the world of how to conduct an interview in journalism, and how you can make your interview process as smooth as a press release on a slow news day.

How to conduct an interview in journalism

Journalistic interviews aren't just about filling the silence between ads; they are the heart of storytelling. When done right, journalistic interviews can turn into riveting stories. You're not just asking questions but digging for a story buried under the mundane surface.

The importance of interviews in journalism

When we talk about interviews, it's not a one-size-fits-all affair. Whether it's the rapid-fire exchange of a news interview, the layered narrative of a profile, the digging of an investigative piece, or the human touch of a feature – each has its place.

Interviews are the soul of journalism; they give it depth, perspective, and that human touch. Imagine reading about a historical event without a firsthand account.

They do more than pad out a news story; they're the muscle that gives it strength, the bones that give it structure.

Here's why:

  1. Bringing voices to life: In interviews, journalists give voice to the voiceless, adding personal depth that pure exposition can't achieve.
  2. Adding credibility: Interviews lend authenticity to a story, as firsthand accounts and expert opinions build trust with the audience.
  3. Contextualising data: Numbers can be cold; interviews inject them with the warmth of human context.
  4. Diversifying viewpoints: A good interview can offer multiple perspectives, ensuring a rounded and fair report.

For more insight, check out “How to transcribe an interview,” where we dive into the mechanics of shaping those spoken words into impactful stories.

Types of journalistic interviews

From hard-hitting news interrogations to relaxed profile pieces, there's a range of interviews you could be conducting. And each type has its charm and challenge.

  1. News interviews: These are the bread and butter of journalism. News interviews are typically concise and focused on gathering timely information. Journalists use news interviews to extract facts, figures, and quotes for breaking stories. Preparing a list of questions in advance is essential to ensure all key points are covered.

  2. Feature interviews: Feature interviews offer a more in-depth exploration of a subject or topic. They provide ample time for the interviewee to share personal stories, insights, and experiences. Feature interviews often include open-ended questions encouraging detailed responses, allowing for a richer narrative.

  3. Profile interviews: Profile interviews focus on a specific individual, offering readers a glimpse into their life, achievements, and personality. These interviews require the journalist to create a compelling story around the subject, diving deep into their background and experiences.

  4. Investigative interviews: Investigative interviews are part of an in-depth investigative piece. These interviews often ask tough questions and may require journalists to pursue leads and sources for additional information. The goal is to uncover hidden truths and expose wrongdoing.

  5. E-mail interviews: In the digital age, e-mail interviews have become common. They involve sending questions to the interviewee via e-mail, and they respond at their convenience. While this method offers flexibility, it can need more spontaneity and follow-up opportunities of face-to-face or phone interviews.

  6. Phone interviews: Phone interviews bridge the gap between in-person and e-mail interviews. They allow for real-time conversation and follow-up questions while providing the convenience of remote communication.

  7. One-on-one interviews: These interviews involve a single journalist interviewing a single interviewee. They are ideal for in-depth conversations and establishing a strong connection with the subject.

  8. Panel interviews: In some cases, a panel of journalists may interview a single interviewee, allowing for various perspectives and questions.

Check out our in-depth guide on journalistic interviews for articles.

The role of the journalist

A journalist is like a tightrope walker, balancing between the search for truth and ethical conduct. Remember, with great power comes great responsibility to stay neutral, fact-check, and maintain the highest integrity.

As a journalist, you must remember to operate within certain boundaries:

  • Neutrality: Keep your opinions in your pocket.
  • Fact-checking: Assume nothing, verify everything.
  • Integrity: Remember, your reputation is always on the line.

How to conduct a successful interview

Conducting an interview is much like directing a play. It's a performance that involves a well-structured script, impeccable timing, and the ability to draw out the best from your cast of characters.

Whether you're a seasoned journalist or just getting started, knowing how to conduct a successful interview is essential.

In this guide, we'll break down the process into three acts: the opening act, the main body, and the grand finale.

Prepare for the interview

The most important step to any interview - preparation. Read up, have your questions ready, and know your story inside out. This isn't about firing shots in the dark; it's about targeted, strategic conversation. Just as a play begins with an attention-grabbing scene, an interview starts with a compelling opening.

Setting the tone

First impressions matter. Start by creating a comfortable environment, which will set your interviewee at ease and make for a more candid conversation. This is your chance to set the tone and establish a rapport with your interviewee.

Here's how to make it engaging:

  • Greetings and introduction: Start with a warm and friendly greeting. Introduce yourself and your purpose. Make your interviewee feel comfortable right from the start.

  • Ice-breaker questions: Begin with light, non-intrusive questions to ease into the conversation. This helps build trust and puts your interviewee at ease.

  • Explaining the purpose: Clearly state the reason for the interview. Whether it's for a news story, a feature article, or an investigative piece, your interviewee should know what to expect.

  • Setting expectations: Let your interviewee know roughly how long the interview will last. This helps manage their time and expectations.

Creating an interview plan

The organisation is your best friend. Think of your interview as a journey – you need a map. This means having your critical questions laid out, but remember to pack some additional questions for the detours.

  • Ask open-ended questions: Craft questions that encourage detailed and thoughtful responses. Avoid yes/no questions, as they can lead to short, uninformative answers.

  • Active listening: Pay close attention to your interviewee's responses. Show that you're engaged through body language, nodding, and verbal cues like "I see," or "Tell me more."

  • Follow-up questions: Don't hesitate to ask follow-up questions. These can delve deeper into specific points, clarify information, or prompt the interviewee to elaborate.

  • Empathise and connect: Show empathy when discussing sensitive or emotional topics. Connect on a human level to make your interviewee feel heard and understood.

Interview objectives

What's the goal? To find out the 'who,' 'what,' 'where,' 'when,' 'why,' and 'how,' of course. Whether you're piecing together a compelling narrative or exposing hidden layers, your objectives should steer the interview.

Choosing the right interviewee

This is like casting for a film. You want someone who brings authenticity and credibility to the table.

Maintaining ethical standards

Fairness, accuracy, and impartiality - the trifecta of ethical journalism. Cultivate sensitivity and respect, and you'll navigate cultural nuances like a professional.

Challenges and ethical dilemmas

Uncooperative subjects and sensitive issues can cause problems. Stick to your principles, and you'll handle these hurdles with grace.

Techniques for effective interviews

Let's get into the nitty-gritty of mastering interviews.

The art of effective questioning

Go for open-ended questions, inviting your interviewee to paint you a picture rather than check a box.

  • Open-ended questions: These are your golden tickets to rich, detailed answers. Instead of asking, "Did you enjoy the experience?" try, "Can you describe what it was like?"

  • Active listening: Effective questioning isn't just about speaking but listening attentively. Pay close attention to your interviewee's responses. Their words may lead to unexpected but valuable avenues of discussion.

  • Adaptability: Be flexible with your questions. Don't stick rigidly to your script if the conversation turns interesting. Sometimes, the most revealing insights emerge when you go off-script.

To illustrate the power of effective questioning, consider an interview with an award-winning journalist and media expert. They might ask, "What inspired you to pursue a career in journalism?" This open-ended question invites a personal and insightful response.

Follow-up questions

These are the 'zoom-in' moments. When something piques your interest, dive deeper. It's in the follow-ups where the real gems often hide.

  • Depth: Like a submarine, dive beneath the surface. If your interviewee mentions a challenging experience, ask them to elaborate on the emotions they felt or the obstacles they encountered.

  • Clarification: Don't hesitate to ask for clarification if something is unclear. It's better to ensure you fully understand the response than to proceed with confusion.

Follow-up questions act like a magnifying glass, highlighting the details that make your story compelling and informative.

Closing the interview

Always end on a polite note. Thank the interviewee, and make sure there's no doubt left unclarified. As any playwright will tell you, a satisfying conclusion is essential. Here's how to wrap up your interview effectively:

  • Thank your interviewee: Express genuine gratitude for their time and insights. A simple "Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences" shows appreciation.

  • Clarify doubts: Before parting ways, ensure you have all the necessary information and clarity. If there are any loose ends, address them now.

  • Future contact: If appropriate, discuss the possibility of future contact. This can be for follow-up questions, additional stories, or updates.

Just as a director brings out the best in actors, you'll draw out the most valuable insights from your subjects. So, go ahead, armed with the art of effective questioning, adept use of follow-up questions, and a strong closing, and conduct interviews that captivate and inform your audience.

Recording and transcription

Recording is your safety net to ensure every quote is spot-on. And with Good Tape, you get more than just a safety net; you get the whole trapeze setup.

Getting started with Good Tape: The transcribing tool for journalists

Good Tape makes transcription as easy as pie:

  • User-friendly: We’ve designed Good Tape with ease in mind.
  • Journalism-focused: Built for and by journalists at Zetland, a Danish investigative journalism firm, our parent company.

Here's how you can submit your file to Good Tape and get the transcription results you need:

1. Upload your file: Upload the file you need to convert. It's the first step in getting your content transcribed.

2. Select your language: Choose the language spoken in the audio file. Good Tape accommodates a wide array of languages. Still, if you’re unsure, the ‘auto-detect’ feature can identify it.

3. Click on 'Transcribe': Click the ‘Transcribe’ button to begin the transcription process.

4. It will take up to 60 minutes: For Casual Users (our Free Plan), Good Tape can transcribe a maximum of 30 minutes in a single go. With our paid plans, you get unlimited length.

5. Get a notification: Once your transcription is ready, Good Tape will alert you via e-mail. This message will include a link to access and download your transcribed document.

With the link to the transcription.

Remember, folks, how to conduct an interview in journalism isn't just about peppering someone with questions.

It's about storytelling, ethics, and making that connection, which turns a simple interview into Good Tape – a reliable partner for every journalist's transcription needs.

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That's why Good Tape is completely free to use. No credit card required.

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