If the idea of interviewing sources makes you quake in your boots, this post is for you. I’m giving you my best journalist interview tips so you can get great quotes and information from your sources. A good interview can add a lot of shine to your piece, so you want it to be successful!
Before the interview
When you write anything that you need to interview sources for, you should charge more. That’s because, in addition to the time you’ll spend interviewing the source, you should spend time beforehand researching and preparing, and time afterwards synthesizing the information.
Know your goal coming into the interview. What kind of information do you need? This will help you shape your list of questions and topics to discuss.
Do your research on this person in advance. A good starter is to verify the spelling of their name, their title, and their pronouns. You want to do a lot of legwork before the interview, not just show up and see what questions pop up in your mind. Look up their website, read a bit of their material, see if they’ve been quoted elsewhere for the same topic, etc.
Don’t ask the same questions they’ve answered everywhere else, or that you can find in their bio or on Google. You want them to talk and to feel comfortable. Come prepared and show that you’re interested in this being a real conversation, not just a soundbite delivery mechanism.
During the interview
Make your questions open-ended instead of a yes/no. If you find that your question is a yes/no as it comes out, you can also ask “And can you tell me why?”
In trying to get the most interesting sound bites, ask questions that play to some sort of emotion. A good starting point is looking at the most extreme of things, such as best, worst, biggest, smallest, fastest, slowest, etc.
- “What’s the best thing you think can come from XYZ?”
- “What’s the worst thing you can come from XYZ?”
- “When is the last time you saw something this big happen?”
- Another great question to include is “Why should [audience] care about [topic]?”
Get them to talk about themselves while still being helpful by asking THEIR THOUGHTS on things. Segue into this with something from their background, if you can.
- “You’ve been in X industry for XX years; what do you think about [this particular issue]?”
- “How do you see this changing/affecting things/whatever?”
Ask them to explain something if you aren’t sure what it means. OR, ask them to explain something if you think it would be a useful quote for the piece.
Ask them to summarize their thoughts on the matter. “Can you give me a super quick overview of your thoughts on [topic]?” This won’t work in all contexts, so only use it if it makes sense. But some variation of it usually works in many different contexts!
Useful rules of journalism
In addition to the above 8 interview tips, I’d also like to share 4 useful rules of journalism.
- Be clear that you’re a writer and this interview is for a piece that will be published.
- In most cases, journalists will say you should never agree to have the published quotes pre-approved; in marketing usage, it’s a little more squishy. (Why?–journalism is supposed to be objective, and marketing doesn’t have to be.) Check with your editor to see if they’re willing to let the person pre-approve quotes.
- “Off the record” means you can’t use that information and you definitely can’t quote or attribute it.
- Thank your source! At the beginning, thank them for being willing to be interviewed, and at the end, thank them again for their time.
Learn more about interview tips
Interviewing is both a science and an art. I have a course, Copy Confidential, that gives a deep dive into how to conduct certain kinds of interviews, such as those for white papers. If you’re interested, be sure and check it out!