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Interviews

August 1, 2011 - Jodelle Greiner
Interviews are such an integral part of a reporter’s life, we forget being interviewed can be a scary proposition for those not used to it.

I’ve conducted countless interviews and I’ve been on the other side of the questions a few times, too. I think what worries people most is they’re going to sound stupid or what they do isn’t important enough to go in the paper. Sadly, sometimes that fear is enough to make them turn down the interview.

The good thing about being interviewed is you already know all the answers. It isn’t a test in school where the teacher is going to mark off points if you answer wrong. This is your story and you get to tell it your way. The reporter is just there to guide you by asking questions so they can learn enough to write a story from your words.

Maybe it will help if I explain why we request interviews.

We need lots of articles to fill up the newspaper. Some of those articles are from meetings such as city council, school board, and commissioners. But those groups don’t meet every day or even every week. Besides, to tell the truth, I’d rather do a human interest feature than sit through a meeting (no offense to all my boards and councils). I think what people are doing is much more interesting and I can learn so much about a variety of things by talking to people about what they do.

Think about the articles in the paper you like to read: I’ll bet you like to find out more about the people in this area, their hobbies and what they’re going through. You can find out about new groups of people who have common interests with you, or you can learn what symptoms to watch out for to catch a disease early.

We’re interested in writing about a wide range of topics and when we hear of something interesting, we try to get the person’s phone number or e-mail address so we can contact them.

Once I set up an interview, I come up with a list of questions to ask the person about, let’s say, their hobby. These include their name, of course, and usually some version of “How did you get started in this?” The purpose of the questions is to find out as much as I can about the person and their hobby and make it as intriguing as possible for the reader. The more I know about the person and what they are doing, the better I can write the article.

Sometimes I follow the question list pretty closely, other times I don’t. A lot depends on what I find out from the person when I’m interviewing them. Sometimes they bring up something that I didn’t know about and the interview takes a whole different direction than I thought it would. That’s what makes being a reporter interesting, you never know what you’ll get. But it means you have to be quick on your feet and always thinking.

Sometimes we ask a lot of questions just so we understand the background better. A point of fact: we reporters are experts on nothing but writing. We’re not chemists, lawyers, financiers, doctors or anything but writers, so we may need to have some of the finer points explained so we can explain it to our readers and educate them. We’re only as good as our sources.

After we get all that information, we come back to the office and write it up. The object is to write it so we draw readers into the story and make them want to keep reading it to the end, and hopefully we entertain and education our readers in the process.

 
 

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