"The best answers usually get saved for the journalists who ask the best questions."
"The questions don't do the damage, only the answers do."
What have we learned from interviewing each other?
Interviewing is a skill. Here are some tips to be used when you interview a subject:
1) Do your Homework-Read up and do research on the person/subject you will be discussing. Being informed not only makes you sound smarter, you will know if someone gives you incorrect or misleading information, and you will be better prepared to talk at length on the subject at hand.
2) Have a Goal-Decide ahead of time what you want to learn from the interview, and then design your line of questions around that goal.
3) Writing Questions-Think about what questions you will ask ahead of time. This list will probably not be your script, but it will help you determine what important areas you want to cover in your interview.
4) Start Off Slowly-Get your subject to tell his/her story to you. Ask them questions to get them talking. Even beginning with something like, "Tell me your side of the story." Or, "What happened?" allows them to open up and feel comfortable. It makes them think you are listening and that you care.
5) Get Specifics-Then, once some comfort has been established, you can follow up with specific questions if information is missing. You need specific information to write your story. Follow up with questions such as, "Can you tell me exactly what happened?" Or, "Could you be more specific?" Or, "Can you give me an example of that?" Sometimes pretending to be confused works very well-people will usually explain clearly and give examples.
6) Ask Direct Questions-Make sure your questions are clear and your subject knows exactly what you are asking. Keep questions short and to the point.
7) Ask Open-Ended Questions-That is, questions that cannot be answered with merely a "yes" or a "no." Your goal is to open up lines of conversation, not close them down.
8) Listening-We all know how hard it is to listen, and it's especially hard when you are the interviewer. Strike a balance between knowing what's on your mind and listening to what is on your subject's mind. Remember your questions, but also be prepared for the conversation to shift. Sometimes your discussion will go off onto a different, yet better, track than you planned.
9) Note-taking-You will never be able to write as fast as someone can talk. Develop your own shortcuts-whether it is abbreviations or shorthand. Being misquoted can get you into serious trouble.
10) Technical Difficulties-If you use a tape recorder or any other recorder, do a test. Make sure you have batteries or an adaptor. Bring extra tapes.
11) Save the best for last-If you have "tough" questions, save them for the end. Your rapport will have developed, your subject will be more at ease, and will be more likely to answer you honestly. Also, if you wind up angering your subject and he/she calls an end to the interview, at least you have some information that you can use for your story.
12) The End-Before saying goodbye and thank you,
give your subject an opportunity to say what they wish. Say something like,
"Do you have anything else to add?" Or, "Is there anything else I should
Read the following interviews online--one is in a Q&A format, the other is written up in an article form.
Combs, from MTV News
Mary J. Blige, from Rolling Stone
-For the Puffy article, look at the questions that were asked. What questions got the "good answers?" Why?
-For the Mary J. Blige article, figure out some questions that had to be asked to get the information presented in the story.
Murry Bergtraum HS
New York, NY
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