Why Interview Anyone At All?

by Joe Bunting | 42 comments

News thewritepractice.comWhen 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.”

3. Promotion

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.

5. Objectivity

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.

Back to How to Conduct an Interview Like A Journalist.

PRACTICE

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.

Happy interviewing!

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Joe Bunting is an author and the leader of The Write Practice community. He is also the author of the new book Crowdsourcing Paris, a real life adventure story set in France. It was a #1 New Release on Amazon. Follow him on Instagram (@jhbunting).

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42 Comments

  1. Shelley Lundquist

    Great points! I shall have to think about this and practice. Pick a “candidate” and come up with 5 questions.

    My first interview was all the way back when I was in Grade 8. I wasexcused from English once a week, to go about town and interview local business people, for our school newletter. I was intent on being a journalist then. My last interview was way back in university. I interviewed Kim Mitchell, Canadian musician. I hadn’t done my homework and didn;t know anything about him. The interview was more personal, and it went well, but it would have been better had I been more prepared.

    Alas, journalism was not my path. Nonetheless, improving my interviewing skills will come in handy. You just never know what opportunity awaits!

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Kim Mitchell. Well hopefully you at least knew he was a man with that name. I might have been confused.

      Yeah, as Jeff said, it’s a great way to help someone and build authority.

  2. Shelley Lundquist

    Great points! I shall have to think about this and practice. Pick a “candidate” and come up with 5 questions.

    My first interview was all the way back when I was in Grade 8. I wasexcused from English once a week, to go about town and interview local business people, for our school newletter. I was intent on being a journalist then. My last interview was way back in university. I interviewed Kim Mitchell, Canadian musician. I hadn’t done my homework and didn;t know anything about him. The interview was more personal, and it went well, but it would have been better had I been more prepared.

    Alas, journalism was not my path. Nonetheless, improving my interviewing skills will come in handy. You just never know what opportunity awaits!

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Kim Mitchell. Well hopefully you at least knew he was a man with that name. I might have been confused.

      Yeah, as Jeff said, it’s a great way to help someone and build authority.

  3. Patricia W Hunter

    Giving this some thought. As you may know, I just interviewed Patsy Clairmont and have an interview secured with another author shortly…so I need to identify someone else for the purpose of this tutorial. *thinking*

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      It sounds like you’re doing an excellent job already, Patricia. You challenge me!

  4. Patricia W Hunter

    Giving this some thought. As you may know, I just interviewed Patsy Clairmont and have an interview secured with another author shortly…so I need to identify someone else for the purpose of this tutorial. *thinking*

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      It sounds like you’re doing an excellent job already, Patricia. You challenge me!

  5. Melinda Williams

    When I first read this my thought was to interview Mike Dellosso, but then I thought that would have been cheating since I’m already acquainted with him through the Darlington Society and I’m looking to break past my fears of trying new things. So I decided to interview Terri Blackstock, another one of my favorite authors. I came up with 5 questions and contacted her. I know she’s busy so I’m not sure how long it will take her to get back to me, and I don’t know if she’ll have time to answer them. But I got out of my comfort zone and did it.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Awesome. Congratulations, Melinda. Any word back?

    • Melinda Williams

      I’m really excited to say that Terri Blackstock said she’d love to answer a few questions! I hope I get it back soon enough to release the post before her next book (due out on February 28th) is released.

    • Joe Bunting

      Wow! Awesome. Make sure to send us the link to your post when it goes live, and we’ll include it in this post 🙂

    • Joe Bunting

      Linked!

      Great stuff, Melinda. I’m so impressed 🙂

  6. Melinda Williams

    When I first read this my thought was to interview Mike Dellosso, but then I thought that would have been cheating since I’m already acquainted with him through the Darlington Society and I’m looking to break past my fears of trying new things. So I decided to interview Terri Blackstock, another one of my favorite authors. I came up with 5 questions and contacted her. I know she’s busy so I’m not sure how long it will take her to get back to me, and I don’t know if she’ll have time to answer them. But I got out of my comfort zone and did it.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Awesome. Congratulations, Melinda. Any word back?

    • Melinda Williams

      I’m really excited to say that Terri Blackstock said she’d love to answer a few questions! I hope I get it back soon enough to release the post before her next book (due out on February 28th) is released.

    • Joe Bunting

      Wow! Awesome. Make sure to send us the link to your post when it goes live, and we’ll include it in this post 🙂

    • Joe Bunting

      Linked!

      Great stuff, Melinda. I’m so impressed 🙂

  7. Ashley Ormon

    This is a great article. I love conducting interviews because they add life to the story. It’s just not “he said, she said”. When you interview someone, it allows your readers to become a part of the conversation (especially if you quote your interviewee often).

    Interviews aren’t difficult, but conducting one well is an art. I took an entire class on it and it’s help me in ways unimaginable. The advice here rings true.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Thanks Ashley. Any tips you’d add as a pro?

    • Ashley Ormon

      Hmm…I’ve noticed complimenting your interviewee, interviewing them in a comfortable setting, or having welcoming gestures while they’re speaking can encourage them to share more information. Of course, in some instances being comfortable isn’t an option.

      On asking your audience, I’ve often Tweeted or Facebook who I’m interviewing to see if people have questions. For example I may say, “I’m interviewing a dermatologist today, anything you want to know about your skin?” or “I’m interviewing a Christian singer (sometimes I’ll add the artist name) what do you want to ask her?” This also makes your audience more inclined to read/watch your interview to see if their question was answered. (I’ve also seen journalists from The New York Times take the same approach on various topics). 

      I’ve had great success with both of these tips.

  8. Ashley Ormon

    This is a great article. I love conducting interviews because they add life to the story. It’s just not “he said, she said”. When you interview someone, it allows your readers to become a part of the conversation (especially if you quote your interviewee often).

    Interviews aren’t difficult, but conducting one well is an art. I took an entire class on it and it’s help me in ways unimaginable. The advice here rings true.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Thanks Ashley. Any tips you’d add as a pro?

    • Ashley Ormon

      Hmm…I’ve noticed complimenting your interviewee, interviewing them in a comfortable setting, or having welcoming gestures while they’re speaking can encourage them to share more information. Of course, in some instances being comfortable isn’t an option.

      On asking your audience, I’ve often Tweeted or Facebook who I’m interviewing to see if people have questions. For example I may say, “I’m interviewing a dermatologist today, anything you want to know about your skin?” or “I’m interviewing a Christian singer (sometimes I’ll add the artist name) what do you want to ask her?” This also makes your audience more inclined to read/watch your interview to see if their question was answered. (I’ve also seen journalists from The New York Times take the same approach on various topics). 

      I’ve had great success with both of these tips.

  9. Mirel

    I probably have way too many questions, but for my first interview, I’d like to interview a friend who is a best selling author.   Will contact her soon.  Questions are here:

    1. Everyone has their distinct writing style- what is
    yours?  Writing on the computer,  in notebooks? 
    Creating in quiet or to music?  At
    home or in public places?

    2.  Do you have a
    specific routine that gets you started?

    3.  I always think that your last book is my favorite one.  How about you, which of your
    books is your favorite?  Which was the
    hardest to write?  Which book gives you
    your greatest satisfaction? 

    4. How about characters? 
    Which one do you feel resembles you the most?

    5) What do you hope
    your readers will take away from your books?

    6)Looking back, can you tell who or what served as your
    greatest inspiration?

    7. Can you share with us
    what you are working on now?

    8. Do you have any specific advice for someone just starting
    out?

    9.   I know that in
    addition to your  writing, you are au
    courant with the political scene and speak out on Jewish and Israeli
    issues.  Are there any special projects
    that you are currently working on? What is your greatest concern about the days ahead?
    10.  You are such an
    inspiration in your writing and your life work. 
    Could you share with us, which of your many accomplishments has brought
    you the greatest satisfaction?

    11. Is there any­thing I didn’t ask that you’d like readers to know?

     

    Reply
    • Ashley Ormon

      I always have more questions than I think I need. Sometimes interviews tend to go fast.

  10. Mirelba

    I probably have way too many questions, but for my first interview, I’d like to interview a friend who is a best selling author.   Will contact her soon.  Questions are here:

    1. Everyone has their distinct writing style- what is
    yours?  Writing on the computer,  in notebooks? 
    Creating in quiet or to music?  At
    home or in public places?

    2.  Do you have a
    specific routine that gets you started?

    3.  I always think that your last book is my favorite one.  How about you, which of your
    books is your favorite?  Which was the
    hardest to write?  Which book gives you
    your greatest satisfaction? 

    4. How about characters? 
    Which one do you feel resembles you the most?

    5) What do you hope
    your readers will take away from your books?

    6)Looking back, can you tell who or what served as your
    greatest inspiration?

    7. Can you share with us
    what you are working on now?

    8. Do you have any specific advice for someone just starting
    out?

    9.   I know that in
    addition to your  writing, you are au
    courant with the political scene and speak out on Jewish and Israeli
    issues.  Are there any special projects
    that you are currently working on? What is your greatest concern about the days ahead?
    10.  You are such an
    inspiration in your writing and your life work. 
    Could you share with us, which of your many accomplishments has brought
    you the greatest satisfaction?

    11. Is there any­thing I didn’t ask that you’d like readers to know?

     

    Reply
    • Ashley Ormon

      I always have more questions than I think I need. Sometimes interviews tend to go fast.

  11. Erin

    Ahhh, darn, I wish I had found this sooner. My writing professor asked me if I wanted to write a story for an area magazine that involved interviewing somebody but I turned down the offer because I wasn’t sure I’d have time for it in my busy schedule. Oh well… On a more hopeful note, I write about music for a little website and I’m hoping to interview a band called The Head and the Heart. The person who runs the site is supposed to contact them for me. I hope they say yes!

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Erin, I LOVE The Head and the Heart. If you interview them, can you ask them if I can interview them too?

    • Erin

      Sure thing, Joe!

  12. Erin

    Ahhh, darn, I wish I had found this sooner. My writing professor asked me if I wanted to write a story for an area magazine that involved interviewing somebody but I turned down the offer because I wasn’t sure I’d have time for it in my busy schedule. Oh well… On a more hopeful note, I write about music for a little website and I’m hoping to interview a band called The Head and the Heart. The person who runs the site is supposed to contact them for me. I hope they say yes!

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Erin, I LOVE The Head and the Heart. If you interview them, can you ask them if I can interview them too?

    • Erin

      Sure thing, Joe!

  13. Robyn

    I help people write the story of their life. I was contacted the other day by Shirley who wants me to write her grandfather’s story. However, her grandfather is no longer alive and she only has historical facts about his life – dates, family tree, some letters etc. I would like to suggest to Shirley that I interview her about how she gathered all this information and weave her grandfather’s story into her own story of discovery. Here are the questions I will ask her if she agrees:
    1. How do you remember your grandfather? What are your personal memories of him?
    2. When and why did you first become interested in finding out more about him?
    3. What did you decide to do and how did you go about it?
    4. What could your family tell you about him?
    5. Did you meet other family members along the way?
    6. How do you feel about your grandfather now that you know more about him? How do you feel about your role in uncovering his story?

    Reply
  14. Robyn

    I help people write the story of their life. I was contacted the other day by Shirley who wants me to write her grandfather’s story. However, her grandfather is no longer alive and she only has historical facts about his life – dates, family tree, some letters etc. I would like to suggest to Shirley that I interview her about how she gathered all this information and weave her grandfather’s story into her own story of discovery. Here are the questions I will ask her if she agrees:
    1. How do you remember your grandfather? What are your personal memories of him?
    2. When and why did you first become interested in finding out more about him?
    3. What did you decide to do and how did you go about it?
    4. What could your family tell you about him?
    5. Did you meet other family members along the way?
    6. How do you feel about your grandfather now that you know more about him? How do you feel about your role in uncovering his story?

    Reply
  15. Hussein Karamyar

    Dear Joe Bunting, give me some time to undergo your courses and then make my comment professionally.

    Reply
  16. jl;jkjll;jk;j

    hello

    Reply

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