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4-6. Conduct the Interview

Among the most critical tasks of the actual interview is the absolute necessity of being on time.  Never waste the source's time by making him wait.  A related task is to not exceed the time limit you asked for.  If more information is needed, ask for another interview time.  Always defer to the source's schedule.  If the interview is running overtime and the source wants to continue, go ahead, but don't waste time.

Establishing rapport between the reporter and the source is a primary consideration during the interview.  Since the real purpose of an interview is to get the subject to talk -- not merely answer a list of prepared, well-researched -- questions, rapport can make the difference between a great or a mediocre article.

One way to establish rapport is to be professional in every way: Be on time, look sharp and know the questions you want to ask (this allows the interview to range in a conversational way).  Don't Be too casual in manner; it's best to be a little formal when meeting someone for the first time (or anytime your subject is your superior).  Don't invite yourself to sit down; wait until you're asked.  Certainly, you won't smoke without permission.  (Smoking also makes note-taking more difficult because it takes up one of your two hands.)  In other words, conduct yourself as if you were a guest, as indeed you are.

Because many people are nervous about being interviewed, the writer is responsible for putting the person at ease.  Although the writer shouldn't waste time in icebreaking small talk, he can begin with relatively easy questions and then move to the more thought-provoking.

To become an accomplished interviewer the reporter must do two things during the course of the session: Let the subject talk, and listen attentively to what is said.  He should listen carefully and forget about what he is planning to ask next.  This encourages the subject to be himself instead of a spokesman.

However, to make the interview as conversational as possible it is necessary to do more than just listen.  Conversation is a two-way process and the reporter is expected to carry his snare of it.


Don't Argue With Your Source

The professional reporter never argues with the person, never tries to persuade the source to the reporter's way of thinking, never judges the source and never acts like a prosecuting attorney in cross-examination.  If the reporter does any of these things, he will lose the source.  Should the reporter disagree with what is said --and there are times when writers do disagree --simply nod, or make a comment of understanding such as: "I see."  Let the person keep on talking.  To keep up his end of the conversation, the reporter may simply indicate his understanding of what has been said and his desire to continue listening.

Turning an interview into a friendly conversation is impossible if the reporter has failed to establish rapport at the outset.  And very often this friendly feeling can begin way back when the reporter did all the tedious research and stumbled across something of interest to the subject which can be used as an icebreaker.

Most sources are readily impressed and become more willing to pass along information, when they see by the reporter's questions that the reporter has done his homework.  The unprepared reporter who gives his subject the impression that every basic fact of a topic must be explained in detail comes away from the interview with a shallow news or feature story.


Maintain Control of the Interview

This may require the writer to restate questions tactfully and to turn conversations back to the subject of the interview.  Allowing the source to do limited rambling may elicit information the writer needs, but uncontrolled rambling may provide the writer with mounds or unusable information and few of the facts he needs.   Control is easier when questions are organized and written prior to the interview.   Additional questions may arise during the interview, but the written questions provide a framework for conducting and controlling the interview.


Ending the Interview

Just as a writer must learn how to open and conduct an Interview, he must also know how to end the interview, Obviously, the reporter can't leap up and say, "That's it.  I got it all.  Thanks.  Bye.  The interview must be brought to a logical and definite end.  The writer will know when the source is done, or when he has asked all his questions.

The writer should review all essential facts, including the source's name, title, unit/organization and all figures.  The writer should also ask if he can call to clarify questions that might arise during the interview.  The reporter should close his notebook and turn off the tape recorder preparing to thank the source as be leaves.  But the reporter should keep his ears open because some sources relax when the equipment is put away and they provide additional, sometimes important, information that adds sparkle and zest to the finished article.

It is best to avoid the practice of having interviewees review articles prior to publication.  However, the writer should follow the newspaper's policy.  The positive aspect of having material reviewed is accuracy.

The negative aspects of review include: conflicts with deadlines, inappropriate changes in the writer's style, and changes in content by superiors of the source.

Ideally reviews should be rare and must be based upon the principles of security, accuracy, propriety and policy.  If a writer and source disagree, the public affairs officer should be asked to help solve the conflict.


David L. Heiserman, Editor

Copyright   SweetHaven Publishing Services
All Rights Reserved

Revised: June 06, 2015