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Interviewing beyond words

"Interviewing beyond words" Continued...

Concluding words about interviewing

Although the following should go without saying, remember basic manners. Reporters have such a reputation for rudeness that you can win respect by not staying overly long, by saying thank you, and by not using a person’s first name unless invited to do so.

Some interviewees are not particularly personable, but you should avoid getting too friendly with those who are, or being influenced by the interviewee’s apparent friendliness. Some interviewees will push you to talk about yourself, but do not spend valuable time in that way: Turn the questions back on the interviewee. Some journalists advise interviewers to pretend to be on the interviewee’s side—but that, if you are not, is lying.

Two questions with which to end an interview: What questions should I have asked that I didn’t? Who else should I interview, and why? When you leave an interviewee, carry away whatever trophies you can: copies of speeches, articles, books. Be a pack rat. You’ll enjoy throwing away stuff when the article goes to press.

The worst interviews are often email ones, because questions cannot be adjusted to take into account responses to answers. Instant message interviewing is better, combining flexibility and the advantages of having a written record of the dialogue, instead of having to transcribe it.

Bottom line: When possible, avoid formal interviews. Here’s the testimony of three more experts. Lawrence Wright says, “I like to see people where they work and live.” Jonathan Harr tries “to do interviews in the character’s own environment, whether that’s an office, home, laboratory, courtroom—anywhere he spends time. I notice what books are on the shelves, what paintings are on the walls, how they keep their house, what kind of car they drive.” 

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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