Without a doubt, interviewing is the hardest part of journalism. You would think the primary challenge in writing an article would be actually writing the article, but it’s not. Interviews are the toughest hurdle in the process, not to mention the most essential.
Interviews have the power of life and death over your articles. Great interviews can provide you with a wealth of memorable quotes to use. Poor interviews can leave you staring at the gaping holes in your article. Interviews that don’t happen can even kill an article.
This week, I was fortunate to enough to talk to several people who were more than willing to talk. That’s not the case every week though.
The first challenge any writer faces is to actually set up an interview. Because the people you have to talk to aren’t exactly waiting around for student reporters to ask them questions, this can be a challenge in and of itself. In fact, it’s fairly common for me to simply never get replies from potential sources when I e-mail them about setting up an interview. When that happens, I have to try to find a telephone number or, if all else fails, trudge down to the person’s office and beat down their door.
Then, once you finally set up an interview, you actually have to talk to the person. This is unfortunate, because it seems like most journalists—myself included—are introverts. As such, we don’t exactly relish talking to complete strangers.
It’s not that it’s all that hard or anything. In fact, I do very little of the talking in most of my interviews. But in spite of that, it’s still incredibly easy to get nervous, and I almost always do. You have to be confident going into an interview, and you have to know what questions you’re going to ask. Otherwise, you’re setting yourself up for a bad experience.
Some people are very easy to talk to. For instance, when I wrote a story about SAC’s trouble with getting students to attend on-campus events (link: http://theaviso.blog.malone.edu/2011/03/01/sac-cancels-events-due-to-lack-of-students/), I had a wonderful time interviewing Rae Showen. She was very willing to talk and gave me a lot of in-depth answers to questions. The interview went smoothly, and I walked out of her office with plenty of material to use.
On the other hand, I’ve had my fair share of interviews that haven’t gone so well. There have been plenty of one-word answers and awkward silences, and on a few occasions people have told me they don’t want to be interviewed. Such is the life of a journalist I suppose.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go scramble to set up some interviews for next week’s article.
Jesse Peek is a staff writer for The Aviso.