Ask Good Questions and Listen to the Answers: A Source’s Plea to Young Journalists

I get interviewed quite a bit. Once every couple of months or so I’m asked to speak as an “expert” about PR, social media, technology, trends or any other random number of things, mostly by student reporters and TV reporters. I love to talk, so if a reporter shows up prepared, listens and asks good questions, I truly enjoy the process.

Regardless of what kind of content you’re creating (doing journalism, writing e-newsletters or blog posts or feature articles for the company magazine), being a good interviewer will help you tell a better story.

My tips:

Listen. I mean really listen. Even if you’ve researched to the moon and back, you don’t know what you don’t know. And if you’re not listening, you won’t hear what could be the most important part of the story. I’ve been interviewed by young reporters who came in with one idea and we went for a long, long walk (metaphorically speaking) before we got to what the story was really about. I could see the a-ha! and the lightbulb. That’s fun for me! In the vast majority of cases, it’s not about trying to craft the story – as the “expert” academic source, so that’s not my role most of the time – so I enjoy spending time talking through issues and ideas.

Be interested and engaged. I know you’re assigned to cover some boring stuff. I get it. But if you’re sitting with me and asking me about my expertise, chances are I don’t think it’s boring. And if you’re clearly interested, then I will be likely to keep talking. Did I mention I like to talk? If you’re bored or your story is clearly already written, then we’re done.

Don’t be a jerk. I understand the need to ask tough questions of sources and whether you’re the journalist or the source, you need to be ready for those. However, as I mentioned, I’m not that source. And you will need to interview lots of sources like me who, for all intents and purposes, are doing you a favor. Neither of us sits in a more or less powerful position and we’re both likely to have a better outcome if you’re not an asshole.

I’m an easy, easy interview. I want to help you do a good job. But if you aren’t coming in having done some research, prepared with good questions and ready to actually listen, it’s not going to go well.

I asked friends and colleagues via Facebook:

Journalists: What is your best number one tip for getting a good interview? ONE TIP. I know you have more than that.  Sources/Interviewees: What is your best advice from the interviewees perspective?

And got a big response – you can see all of them here.

Jennifer Soulagnet Interviewers must LISTEN carefully. It’s more than understanding content and tone; it’s being able to find good follow-up questions because you listened to the details of an answer.

Jay Jones Have a conversation.

Melanie Adamson Research and plan. Don’t ask questions you can find yourself.

Rachelle Hacmac “Awkward” silences often create the most honest moments in an interview.

Janelle Iverson Don’t ever interrupt/stop your interviewee, but also engage. Venture farther than the canned “uh huh…” “Oh, okay…” Responses.

Staci Anne Stringer Do your research and KNOW the subject. That way you can LISTEN to the interviewee and what they are saying and you can take the interview more in-depth and ask genuine questions that may go beyond what you had planned to ask.

So what do you think? Whether you’re a content creator/storyteller or a source – what advice would you give?

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