Every journalist fears that one interviewee that’s a dud. The person who answers every question with a no or yes.
But the problem isn’t with the interviewee. But with the questions the journalist is asking.
Last week , Anna Maria Tremonti host of CBC’s the Current visited my Radio class and gave us some tips on interviewing.
She taught us how to illicit vivid details and narrative and told other interesting things about her life as a journalist.
Good interviewing is particularly important for radio and TV which relies on sound bites.
- You can never read to much. Everything you can think of read it in preparation for an interview.
- Always let them tell you the story. Say your covering the aftermath of a hurricane. And your doing a live interview with someone who’s living room and kitchen just got flooded. As the journalist you know that. But your audience doesn’t. So don’t ask, “Jim I heard the river burst it’s banks flooded your back yard and then came pouring into your kitchen. Is that correct? ” Better to say, “Tell me what the hurricane did to your house?”
- Shut up. You’re not there to be a star. Or to impress the interviewee or the audience with how much you know. As a reporter you’re there to ask questions and get them to talk.
- Not all questions in an interview have to be questions. Some are statements. Some are prompts.
- Different types of interviews exist. Sometimes it’s about holding officials to account. And your questions will be structured to reflect that purpose. Other times you interview because people have undergone amazing circumstances and they have a story to tell. The purpose then is to get them to tell the story in a compelling fashion.
- Ask simple questions. Even stupid ones. Sometimes the most important facts are disclosed in the questions journalists are afraid to ask because they think they will look dumb.