Conducting a journalistic interview is something of both an art and a science.
The science comes in the preparation beforehand, and then using the material in an article. The art, on the other hand, is navigating the interview itself. Here are some tips for a successful interview.
Do research beforehand
This is a vital step, because getting to know your interviewee before you interview them enables you to ask the right questions. Start with going through their social profiles and if they have one, their wikipedia page. Make sure you keep in close contact with your subject prior to the interview. This not only gives you a sense of them beforehand but also gives you a line of communication after the interview to ask questions or clarifications that you may have missed at the time.
Find an appropriate location
You ideally want a place that is noise and distraction free, but that doesn’t necessarily rule out a cafe meeting. In the end, there is a balance to be struck between being able to hear each other speak, but also create an atmosphere in which your interviewee feels comfortable to speak their mind. This might not be an office or library, which while quiet, will make the conversation more formal and stiff. A comfortable interviewee at ease is more likely to divulge fuller and more revealing answers.
Plan your questions
Whether you jot them down on your phone, computer or good old fashioned notebook doesn’t matter, as long as you know what to say. By having your questions mapped out in advance, you at least have a fall back if you run out of topics and avoid potential awkward silences. But remember to keep the conversation natural and flowing. Having a set of questions doesn’t mean sticking to them rigidly one by one, but allowing the interview to develop organically. Strike a balance between ensuring you cover certain ground but keep the conversation comfortable in order to bring out the best answers from your interviewee.
Record your interview (and transcribe it)
As a journalist when interviewing you want your attention focussed on the person you are interviewing. While notes are both essential and helpful, recording the interview adds a layer of protection in case something gets missed or the conversation moves too quickly. Either way you need to be able to respond to your interviewee, any changes in their direction or thought process and to do that means only dedicating so much time to scribbling shorthand. Recording also helps capture quotes, which are rarely easy to write down word-for-word live. In some cases you may have to leave material for some time before coming back to it, so having an oral record of it helps jog your mind for some and provide the context that may otherwise be lost on paper. For that reason, also consider transcribing your notes and the recording to save time when you come back to reviewing it. Either do it yourself, or use a professional service like JUST:
Managing a journalistic interview more than anything else requires flexibility. This can be achieved through a combination of knowing your interview subject, but crucially maintaining a natural conversation rather than ticking boxes.