Skills in Journalism: Effective Interview
The hard work of journalism comes defined by interviewing and note-taking. This is where you know real journalists from amateurs. For journalism students, there is no better way of improving your skills that learning about these two aspects. Even most of the significant journalists in movies and TVs find interviewing and note-taking a real challenge in their profession.
Hence, it is essential that you acquire these real-world reporting skills. They will not only sustain you in the industry, but they will take you from level to level too. Those journalists that can interview high profile persons in society get such an opportunity because there is something in them that is not in other journalists. For these reasons, it is vital for one aim at succeeding in these areas. Note that these are areas that need critical thinking because one must adapt quickly to the changing environments. Besides, you cannot be a real journalist is you avoid interviews. And without taking notes, then you have nothing to report on at the end of the day.
Being a good listener is the backbone of a good interviewer. In other words, you want to make the interviewee feel like they matter, and that is why they feature in such a moment. First, a good journalist books an interview appointment in good time. Impromptu appointments are never the best because they don’t give the respondent enough time to prepare. It is better, therefore, to plan the interview several weeks in advance.
During this time, the person should be well advised on the purpose of the interview and what they should expect. There should be no surprises whatsoever. It also shows that you respect their busy schedule, and you are willing to wait. Also, it would be better to allow the person to choose the interview location. Unless it is in the studio or live on TV, the person should be able to pick a place they prefer. It could be, for instance, in a popular coffee house. In this case, the person will be more willing to come, unguarded, like it would in the case of their workplace. Again, you don’t want to set an environment that makes it seem as though the mood of exchange is for your benefit.
And when requesting the interview, it is prudent to be as polite as possible. Remember, you are the one looking to benefit from the interview; hence, words like “please,” “kindly,” and “thank you” can lighten the mood and decrease the tension. Perhaps the person has seen a lot of “gotcha” interviews on the television. In this case, they will come in the interviews with the idea that they need to weigh their words carefully; they wouldn’t want to embarrass themselves of the organizations they represent. Again, chances are the person may decline the request. Some will not even respond to your emails or phone calls. Do not give up. Try other more artistic approaches to getting their attention. One of the most popular ways to capture someone’s attention is by arranging a bump-into. If it happens, the journalist should introduce themselves as someone interested in talking to the person. They should then hand give our cards and state how they have been trying to get in touch without success. The interviewer will be politely forcing the issue, which many interviewees find hard to resist. Such a level of persistence cannot go unrewarded.
However, be ready for the interviews even as you request the person. Some people may not need to wait another moment, so they will want to dive right in to start the dialogue. Hence, always be prepared well in advance, carry along your working pen and a piece of paper, ensure your tape recorder is full t charged (but request before using it). However, if the person continues to decline, perhaps stating personal reasons, then you should know when to let go. You wouldn’t want to upset the interviewee. Perhaps they will look for when they feel more comfortable.
Now do your home well. Understand your audience very well. If, for instance, you are interviewing a city mayor, know their responsibilities well and what they have done or are doing, research on the problems the city is facing, noting that the public is looking for true and honest answers. And during the interviews, what you put on to tell a lot about you. Look for something that looks comfortable for the person you are interviewing. Also, remember to remind the person that everything they discuss will be on the record. Also, do not allow the see in the interview material beforehand.
Summary of interviewing:
- Give the speaker space to deviate a bit from the subject. There could be some vital information you can use
- Do not allow the speaker to hijack the moment. Be in control at all times.
- Give them enough time to respond to your questions.
- Ask probing questions without sounding offensive.
- Take note of your body language
Note-taking is a trade for a journalist. However, it is not as easy as it may sound. There are things one should do and others that they should avoid at all costs.
Verbatim note-taking is an old technique many journalists use. But it is not effective – not even possible, over a long term. For this reason, a good journalist should create their own style of note-taking – one that works well only for them. For instance, you can learn to use the letter “S” to represent a subject.
Learn to leave clues that indicate you might need clarification. Perhaps you can put a star, an exclamation mark, or a triangle to show you need to stop and search for something deeper.
And the most important thing about note-taking is that you don’t want to be rude to the speaker. Hence, taking notes while paying adequate attention is a skill on another level – but one you must learn. Consider using technology for this task. It can make things much easier for you. And attentively listening can never be overly emphasized.
Author: James Hamilton