Practical guide for conducting media interviews

There are three ways to gather information for your story. They are inquiry, observation, and dialogue. The most important of these is dialogue. This can be done through an interview (either through direct contact, over the phone or via email). The conversation may be broad or limited to some questions. Anyway, this is the way to get into the story you want to write. The ability to talk to people is the difference between a good reporter and a well experienced senior reporter.

  1. Preparing will lead you to good questions. Read everything you have. Talk to people who are familiar with the topic. ‘As you go for a good conversation, you have your foreknowledge of what is going to help you. It creates a cordial relationship between the journalist and the interviewee,‘ says Tom Rosensteel.
  1. What is the title of your story? How relevant is that topic to the conversation? If you plan to find answers to such questions, make sure that you have prepared relevant questions in advance to ensure that no important matters are left out. It will also give you courage.
  1. Organize your questions moderately. You don’t need to confront the person. So ask open-ended questions. Talking about their liking for old cars for instance will help. Also ask such questions mixed in with your other questions. The definite questions are useful for getting basic information. You will have the opportunity to uncover information or feelings that you do not expect.
  1. Focus on the outfit you are wearing. You don’t wear the same dress when meeting a president and a cricketer. Think about what kind of dress the person would be in whom you are going to talk to. Avoid wearing dirty, untidy or inappropriate clothing.
  1. When you meet someone, even if it’s an interview, make it a friendly conversation. Studios Turgal says, “At the beginning of this study I realized that formal conversations are not going to work. Although query methodology may help avoid biased effects, research on men and women is not going to be beneficial. It is just conversation and listening to what the other person says”.

During the conversation:

  • Look at the person attentively.
  • Sit comfortably in your seat.
  • Always shake your head when accepting a response.
  • Listen carefully.


  • Smile.
  1. Create a harmonious environment on first meeting them. Talk about things you have in common. This can be done while preparing a device, notebook or recorder. This is the first moment of the interview; you have to decide how you’re going to carry the rest of the conversation. Do you both have a common matter or a common friend? Start your conversation with that.
  1. Look into the eyes of the speaker. Listen carefully to what they say, and understand clearly what is being said. Sit in your seat and bend your hips forward slightly. It is a strong and positive attitude.
  1. Observe the interviewee’s body language and emotional expressions. Likewise note the presence, dress and physical specialties characteristics. Listen carefully to their speech and observe their feelings. This can reveal something the interviewee does not say. Also note down the ambient sights and sounds you hear.
  1. Pay close attention to what the interviewee is saying. Do not drown in the thought of what you want to ask next. If you understand his final answer, your next question will be better. Let your observations be critical. If there is no clarity in his answer, ask for clarification. See whether something important is missing. See whether he/she is trying to avoid a certain topic? 
  1. While he is answering, do not interrupt. Don’t ask long questions. Don’t talk too much. Don’t be challenging at the beginning of the conversation. Don’t pretend to know everything. You have gone there to listen to what he/she says and not vice-versa. Nonetheless, if you want to reveal anything, do so only if it helps to keep the conversations going. Express your observations but do not overstate.
  1. Control your mental flow and body movements. When the person interviewed understands that you disagree, the conversation could break down. If they wish to talk while walking you through their home, garden, office or factory, accept it. Also, take note of what you see there.
  1. Start with the easy questions. Don’t focus too much on everyday’s life information; just remember the questions you have prepared. ‘Interviewing is a continuous conversation. Then you will know what information to get. (Only you know what your expectations are.) You should try to get them,’ notes Anthony De Curtis, former editor of the Rolling Stone Telegraph.
  1. If the interviewee leads the conversation in an unexpected direction, let it be. But as an interviewer, remember what your goal is. Be determined to reach your goal. In some cases, important issues may come up at the end of the interview. Don’t forget to ask ‘What’s going to happen in the future?’ Finish the interview in about an hour. Do not forget to thank the person you interviewed at the end of the interview.
  1. When publishing the interview, make sure your quote is correct. It is also necessary for it to be typo-free. Also tell the interviewee briefly and clearly the important points of their speech that you have noted and say, ‘Let me see if I understand what you said.
  1. Tell the interviewer that you will contact them again to verify the accuracy of the items spoken. (Not quotes). Do it at the completion of writing the story. This can be used as an opportunity for a second appointment. If you don’t understand certain matter, make it clear. If there is an essential part of the story that is not described in the initial conversation, be sure to ask it.
  1. If you feel the need for a news story, keep the conversation recorded. Does he/she have a special look? Does the person you are interviewing have a special speaking style? Is this a controversial topic? Does having a voice recorder during conversation lead to reduce its quality or be a hindrance to the conversation? If you want to use a voice-recorder, ask for their approval first and then keep it in a place that could be seen. Make sure that your recording device is working well and the batteries are in good condition. Use the recorded speech only as a source for writing your notes.
  1. Once the conversation has been recorded, if he/she is now requesting that a portion of it be deleted, explain the situation and try to agree not to do so. If that is not possible, make sure you and the interviewee understand some basic rules: Can you use it without mentioning their name? Can someone else provide the same information? Or does ‘not publishing’ mean that the information cannot be used at all? Does that mean you can’t even go to someone else to get that information? Think about that.
  1. It is mandatory to quote (without dilution), as the interviewer told you, in your news story. You tell your readers what the person said. You, as a reporter, give others the impression that you are presenting the world with something that actually happened. So it must be 100% accurate. If you are not sure about every word in the quoted text, remove the quotation mark and write its contents in other words. If the quoted text contains grammatical errors, you are allowed to correct it.
  1. Ensure that the interview being given will reveal an event. Do not use direct quotations if its content is unpleasant. (Even if the information is no doubt true, do not use it). Quotations are the media that drives the story, so be careful not to repeat what is said.
  1. Frequently asked advice about conducting interviews is like playing a fun game. The one thing you are seeking is with the person you interview. He/she will not give that to you easily. In order to weed out the information, make easy questions that are convenient for him to answer that would lead the person to answer difficult questions with ease. Answers like ‘No’ and ‘Yes’ are not acceptable. A good reporter reports information on some level. But a senior reporter reports on an even better level.
  1. Identify exactly what the interviewee knows, what they want to say and what you are allowed to report. The person wants to tell you another truth they know, but you are not allowed to record it. This is what is supposed to be a ‘personal position’ of an interviewee. There is another position that a person can take. That is not only refusing to tell you a specific point, but also refusing to let you mention it. Try to report precisely and accurately, without violating the law and the Code of Ethics.


© Methlal Weerasooriya


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