These tips for interviewing people as sources or experts for articles are from a panel of experienced journalists, who recently spoke at a Writer’s Craft Fair hosted by the BC Association of Magazine Publishers.
Before the tips, a quip:
“Writing comes more easily if you have something to say.” – Sholem Asch.
One benefit of interviewing sources or experts for articles is that you’ll likely be gathering a lot of “something to say”! Make sure you’re reporting the newest, most interesting tidbits, fellow scribes. For more journalism tips, click The New New Journalism: Conversations with America’s Best Nonfiction Writers on Their Craft (it was highly recommended by one of the journalists on the panel).
And, read on for 10 tips for interviewing sources for articles…
10 Tips for Interviewing Sources for Articles
1. Know your own emotional issues. Certain topics are taboo (money, politics, religion, sex), which can make you feel awkward when asking sources certain questions. But, most sources are usually experienced and comfortable about talking about the issues at hand – else you wouldn’t be interviewing them! When you’re interviewing a source for an article, make sure your own issues aren’t preventing you from asking direct, relevant questions.
2. Open up a little to establish rapport. Making a connection with your source via a common piece of history (eg, the same alma mater), similar like or dislike, or even a person you both know can be a valuable way to establish rapport. Don’t spent a lot of time sharing about yourself, though.
3. Listen to Rumi, and let there be “spaces in your togetherness.” This tip for interviewing sources means “stop talking.” Even a five second pause can feel endless – but those pools of silence will eventually reveal gems of information. Give your experts time to think, to reflect, and to figure out how to say what they want. Get comfortable with silence; it’s a great way to discovering fascinating tidbits.
4. Do your research in advance. Dig around in your source’s past; then ask him or her for clarification on certain activities or quotations. Show that you’ve spent some time doing your research – this tip for interviewing sources for articles will impress him/her, facilitate trust, and show that you’re eager and prepared. This tip is will help you build a successful freelance writing career.
5. Clarify basic information. Make sure you know your source’s birthdate (not just his/her current age), who he/she is married to, where they live, how to correctly spell every proper noun mentioned, where he/she works, etc. Getting basic facts wrong is a sign of carelessness or sloppiness, and could affect your future relationship with your source, the editor, and the readers of the publication.
6. Trust your prepared questions. Don’t hesitate to ask new questions during the interview, but don’t toss your prepared questions out the window. This tip for interviewing sources stems from the fact that some reporters get so involved with the “bunny trail”, they neglect to ask the foundation questions that reflect the basic needs of the article (and the readers).
7. Make direct quotations make sense. Since people talk in circles with plenty of “um’s” and “like’s”, you don’t necessarily want to use a source’s exact words. Never change the meaning or essence of what was said, but feel free to make direct quotations make sense.
8. Record the interview, and ‘fess up about it. Some journalists don’t tell their sources that the interview is being recorded – the journalist sees recording the interview as a “given.” I’d suggest telling your source that you’re recording the interview.
9. Ask for leads. This is a great tip for interviewing sources when you don’t have enough information or experts! Ask your sources to recommend another person to talk to, or a place to visit.
10. At the end of the interview, asked what you missed. My two favorite ways of asking this are: “What would surprise readers to learn about X?” and “Is there anything I’ve missed, that you think people ought to know?”
For more tips on interviewing expert sources for articles, read Interviewing Expert Sources for Articles Via Email.
What have I missed? I welcome your thoughts on these tips for interviewing sources for articles below…