When I did my first interview, I spoke with the star of a high school play (which I never saw). We sat on the grass outside the theater. “Um… What do you want to tell people about the play?” I asked. “Didn’t you come with questions?” she said. “Yeah. What do you want to tell people about the play?” I didn’t finish the assignment.
I didn’t read the newspaper, so why would I want to write for a newspaper? When we were supposed to be interviewing people in journalism class, Jess and I would walk around the school, sometimes stopping to play nibbles on our scientific calculators.
Why interview someone? How does it enhance a blog post or an article? What’s the motivation?
When I asked Porter Anderson this, he told me, “It depends.”
1. To Get the Facts
“There are two kinds of interviews,” says Porter, “the discovery interview and the interrogation interview, or the basic Q and A.” The Q and A is what you see most bloggers doing. You see the question in bold followed by the answer.
To the professional journalists I talked to, they see it as lazy. However, when you’re writing a blog every day, sometimes the Q and A is all you can do.
The Q and A has some benefits. It’s less time consuming for the interviewee. It’s less difficult to email back answers to your list of questions than talk on the phone or in person for thirty minutes.
You do the Q and A interview when you want to get the facts and get out. It can be good for your audience, too, if they need the facts quickly and efficiently.
This is what Morgan Lee is talking about when he says, “Talking to the subject of any story can only help the writer in his/her development of the article.” The article develops as the facts are revealed.
2. To Get the Personality
“When you’re deciding what your motivation is,” says Porter, “you’re really asking whether or not you want to get at a personality, or just get the facts now.” The Q and A interview is the fact-finding mission. The discovery interview, however, tries to understand how a person interacts with the world and how the world interacts with them.
Porter says the discovery interview attempts to put the person into a context. For example, Rebecca Mead attempts to understand how Tim Ferriss has become the self-help guru of my generation, and what that says about us. The article becomes a sort of landscape of his life and how he has affected ours.
“When you interview someone, you put a face to the story,” says Marissa Villa about the discovery interview. “I can say that a house burned down, but when the homeowner talks about losing everything inside the burning house, and I add something like,’Matt Franklin said as tears rolled down his cheeks,’ the story becomes more personal, more interesting.”
Jeff Goins has a different take:
I interview people for two reasons: 1) to promote their work, because I believe in it, and 2) to legitimize my content by attracting fans of those interviewees. For example, when I interviewed Seth Godin, he linked to my blog, which sent a lot of traffic (new potential readers) to my blog. Same thing when I interviewed Chris Brogan, and he tweeted the link.
Jeff sees interviewing as a valuable marketing tool, both to promote your friend’s work and your own.
4. To Add Perspective
Morgan believes interviews add perspective to an article:
It’s one thing to write how a player scored a touchdown—it’s another thing entirely when the player describes how the play happened first-hand. Some very well-written pieces contain no quotes—but very rarely.
Marissa sees the interview as adding some much-needed objectivity to the story. “If I don’t interview anyone, then I am just saying what I think. Interviews are important because as a journalist, I don’t want people to see me in the story. I want them to see the story.”
6. Because Your Audience Would Love It
In the end, you interview to give your audience something you couldn’t give them on your own. Porter says, “One of our best people [in the publishing world] is Jane Friedman. I can hear Jane saying in the back of my mind, Ask your audience.”
What does your audience want?
The facts? The personality? Do they want a bigger perspective or more objectivity? Or to be introduced to the people whose work you believe in? As you build your audience and get to know them, you’ll get a sense of why they would want you to interview others.
Ask yourself, “Who would my audience want me to interview? What would they want me to ask them?” If you don’t have an “audience,” ask yourself, “Who would my best friend be amazed that I interviewed?”
It could be a rock star, a politician, a professional baseball player, actor. My dad (who’s my biggest fan) once told me he wanted me to interview Michael Crichton. So that’s what I’m going to try to do, regardless of the sad fact Michael Crichton is dead (as of 2008). If I can pull it off, it will be the most intense interview I ever do.
When you’ve figured out who to interview, write out five questions to ask them.
If you’re really bold, find their email address, blog, or phone number, and go ask your Michael Crichton. Say you’re on assignment with the Write Practice, and when they answer back, post their reply in the comments.