Journalism 18 -- Lecture Notes

  Copyright 1998, 1999 by Rich Cameron

High percentage tips
for scoring a great interview

By Don Ray

  1. Learn everything you can about the person before you make contact?
  2. Assess the person's point of view. What is likely to motivate him/her?
  3. Look for mine fields to avoid. What's likely to motivate him/her?
  4. Avoid having intermediaries make the interview request for you. It will almost always fail. Instead, ask the intermediary to have the person call you directly so you can explain.
  5. When you call someone, first say, "Hello, this is _________ from ______(paper or station) Do you have a minute?" This small courtesy will pay off as much as anything you do.
  6. Don't ask any questions or make any requests until you've tried to counter any likely fears.
  7. Instead, offer them something. "I'd like to fill you in on what I've learned."
  8. Be prepared to conduct the interview instantly. If you give someone time to think about it, he/she may change his/her mind or someone may talk them out of doing the interview.
  9. Don't be judgmental. Treat her/him as if she/he's a friend of someone you care about.
  10. Don't misrepresent yourself or make promises you can't keep.
  11. Don't be dishonest. Unless you are a great liar, you won't get away with it. If you are a good liar, please change occupations.
  12. Don't be afraid to appear ignorant. A good journalist doesn't have to know anything -- he/she just has to know how to learn. Always remain in a learning mode.
  13. Look her/him in the eyes and be interested in what she/he says.
  14. To get perfect quotes and sound bites, don't ask any questions. Instead, make requests that result in complete thoughts. "Tell me about your education . . .", "I'm curious about your involvement in . . .", "Describe your reaction to . . .", "Take me back to five minutes before it happened, set the scene and walk me through it."
  15. Avoid saying the words "who," "what," "when," "where," "why" or "how." Too often they result in answers that are narrow or that are not complete sentences.

    "Why did you do it?"
    "Because I was angry."

    "Tell me your reason for doing it."
    "I woke up one morning so angry at the world that I couldn't help myself."

    - - - - - - -
    "Who taught you to do that?"
    "My dad."

    "Tell me the way you learned that (not how)."
    "My father was the best bronco buster south of the Snake River. He was determined I'd follow in his footsteps."


  16. Don't ask yes/no questions or multiple choice questions.
  17. When he/she's done talking, remain completely silent for at least 30 seconds. In that pregnant pause, let him/her feel the silence. Your best, most thought out quotes/bites will come from inside them -- not from your questions.
  18. Listen to every word she/he's saying. Don't worry about your next question --if you're listening, it will come to you.
  19. If you can't think of the next question, simply say, "Hmm. Interesting. Tell me more."
  20. Don't write out questions in advance. If you must, write the topics or key words on a 3x5 card.
  21. Don't interrupt.
  22. Use body language to give her/him positive feedback or to ask questions.
  23. Ask him/her about his/her perceptions before something happened.
  24. Ask her/him about her/his feeling at the time it happened.
  25. Ask him/her about the extent to which they believed things at the time. Now?
  26. Always have enough tape left over to catch the Front Door Confessions. It always happens on the front porch as you're leaving. Anticipate it and have the recorder/camera ready to roll.
  27. Always ask her/him who else might be able to tell you more.
  28. When you can, tell him/her they did a good job. It will assure your future cooperation.
  29. If you can, call them up and thank her/him (or write a note and mail it to her/him).
  30. Let him/her know when the story airs or goes to print.

By Don Ray, P.O. Box 4375, Burbank, CA 91503-4375
(818) THE-NEWS, Fax: (818) 843-3223
Email -- Web
1998, but anyone can feel free to reproduce all or part of this if they include the above lines.
Reproduced here with permission.

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