How to Conduct an Interview Like a Journalist
This week we’re cancelling our normal broadcasting to publish a series about the journalist’s staple: Interviewing.
The interview is the most used tool in a journalist’s bag, from Barbara Walters down to the guy who writes up the local pee-wee football game. They all interview.
Are you a novelist who wants to get deeper into your character’s head? Consider interviewing someone like your character.
Are you considering getting into journalism? You better learn to interview.
Are you a blogger? Why aren’t you interviewing people yet?
I interviewed four experts about how to interview someone (that’s right, interviewed people about how to interview people—very meta). I talked to a lifestyle journalist, a blogger, a local reporter, and a sports reporter. Let’s call them “the panel.”
This week the panel and I will be covering the following topics, one per day:
- Why interview someone?
- What if they don’t want to talk to you?
- Six Ways To Ask Better Questions in Interviews
- How should you interview someone? Over email? In person?
- Eleven Habits of a Highly Effective Interviewers
Here’s who the panel consists of:
Porter Anderson spent twenty-eight years in journalism working for some of the nation’s top news sources, including CNN, the Village Voice, and the Dallas Times Herald. Currently, he writes fiction and tweets about the publishing and writing world on @porter_anderson. He also writes a weekly summary of the most interesting publishing news on former Writer’s Digest publisher Jane Friedman’s blog.
Porter’s all-time favorite interview: when Sting (yes, the Sting) walked into his office and said, “I’m not leaving until I tell you everything you need to know.”
Actually, no, that was his second favorite. His first, the legendary interviewer Charlie Rose.
Jeff Goins built a blog from zero to 1,000 subscribers in about six months, but has been blogging for over five years. He has interviewed Seth Godin, Steven Pressfield, Chris Gillebeau, Michael Hyatt, Chris Brogan, and many others. He writes about writing, networking, and social media at goinswriter.com.
Jeff’s all-time favorite interview: Steven Pressfield, author of Do the Work and The War of Art, two fantastic books about creativity you need to be reading, as well as the novels Gates of Fire and The Legend of Bagger Vance.
Marissa Villa has been working in journalism for eleven years, much of that for a bilingual weekly where she reports on the local happenings of San Antonio.
Marissa’s all-time favorite interview: she doesn’t remember and feels terrible about it (but not too terrible, just the right amount of terrible).
Morgan Lee is a self-described “sports fanatic,” and has been writing about sports professionally for ten years. He edits the sports section for accessnorthga.com, the go-to website for sports information in North Georgia.
Morgan’s all-time favorite interview: the star of University of Georgia’s 2004 defense after they beat Georgia Tech (Georgia won). In a swarm of ten reporters, Morgan elbowed in and asked his question. “He loved the question,” says Morgan, “began smiling, and we were able to complete a pretty insightful interview for the next two minutes. ”
I guess that’s the key: ask questions that make your interviewee smile.
Tor Constantino worked in radio and print journalism for eleven years. He was a reporter/anchor at five different radio stations, two national radio networks and two affiliate TV stations (confession: I don’t really know what an “affiliate TV station” is, but it sounds cool). He currently blogs about life and communication at The Daily Retort.
Tor’s All-Time Favorite Interview: George H.W. Bush. That’s the first one, not the second, in case that name causes you to involuntarily throw up.
To prepare for a week full of learning about interviewing, let’s start with a small and self-centered exercise.
Email your best friend. Ask them one little question. “What did you think of me when we first met?”
Tell them you’re doing it on assignment from the Write Practice, and when they get back to you, post their answer in the comments. We’d love to hear what they think.