08. Conducting a good interview

Interviewing is at the heart of journalism. Whichever the media, it must produce information for the reader, the listener or the viewer. This Q&R is an asymmetrical exchange. The interviewee brings the mot info. The interviewer limits his speaking time and takes the upper hand thanks to pertinent questions and relaunches, by the quality of his listening and the clarity of his rewordings. He is in charge of the interview, guiding and giving rhythm to the process. 

The journalist is in charge of the interview and has to respect constraints.

He must :

  •  Tell the interviewee the rules :

– The time limit: the amount of time there is (for editing and broadcasting).

– The setting : live interview or edited interview.

– Where it will be broadcast : newscast, show…

  • Getting the interviewee to give his best :

– The interviewee knows all about interviews. Therefore he’s spouting a formulaic script he’s memorized. The journalist must contradict him with precise and undeniable information that he’s prepared before the interview.

– The interviewee is shy, or in shock. The journalist starts the interview with easy, closed, familiar questions: age, address, name, and if possible uses the same words as the interviewee. The journalist must help the interviewee, but never give out the answers in his place.

Interview techniques

  • Don’t put the answer in the question :

The question is related to one topic, the interviewee’s answer completes it. If the journalist answers his one question, what else is there for the interviewee to say ?

  • Rewording the answer for the viewer :

Rewording an answer helps define the next question. It’s used as a transition, and helps with overly long or technical answers. The journalist gives clear info to the viewers, who must never get lost during the interview.

  • Framing the questions :

Framing is an affirmative sentence that goes before a question. It gives information that make the question more precise and help get an answer loaded with exclusive information.

For example, here’s an interview of Bill Clinton by newspaper Le Monde :

J : “You’re only 54, you can do anything you want, you have the most experience and contacts a man can have, you’re leaving the Oval Office. What are you going to do now?”

  • Using a keyword at the end of your question :

The interviewee is ready to answer as soon as he hears the keyword that sums up the question.

What the journalist adds next pollutes the question and delays the answer.

  • L : “What part did you play (in this operation) ? “
  • G : “In this operation, what part did you play ? “

Write the questions as key words.

The journalist writes his questions as keywords, on a small piece of paper or on the plam of his hand, so that they can be seen at a glance. Therefore he avoid paper noises in the mic, watches the interviewee and concentrates on the answers.