Keys to a Successful Interview
Establish a Rapport – When starting out, don’t abruptly lanch into your questions. Chitchat a little with your source. Compliment them on their office, or comment on the weather. This puts your source at ease.
Keep it Natural – An interview can be an uncomfortable experience, so keep things natural and conversational. Instead of mechanically reading out your list of questions, weave your queries naturally into the flow of the conversation.
Also, maintain eye contact as much as possible. Nothing is more unnerving to a source then a reporter who never looks up from their notebook.
Be Open – Don’t be so focused on getting through your list of questions that you miss something interesting.
For instance, if you’re interviewing the cardiologist and she mentions a new heart-health study that’s coming out, ask her about it. This may take your interview in an unexpected direction – but if it leads to something interesting, so what?
Maintain Control – Be open, yes, but don’t waste your time. If your source starts to ramble on about things that are clearly of no use to you, don’t be afraid to gently – but firmly – steer the conversation back to the topic at hand.
Wrapping Up – At the end of the interview, ask your source if there’s anything they want to discuss that you hadn’t asked about. Double-check the meanings of any terms or words they used that you’re unsure about. And always ask if there are other people they recommend that you speak with.
A Note About Note-taking – Beginning reporters often freak out when they realize they can’t possibly write down everything the source is saying, word-for-word. Don’t sweat it. Experienced reporters learn to take down just the interesting stuff they know they’ll use, and ignore the stuff they won’t. This takes some practice, but the more interviews you do, the easier it gets.
Taping – Recording an interview is fine, and generally it's best to get the permission of the person you're recording. Taping can be helpful if you’re doing a long interview that you’ll have time to listen to and type out later.
But the rules regarding taping a source can be tricky. According to Poynter.org, recording phone conversations is legal in all 50 states. And federal law allows you to record a phone conversation with the consent of only one person involved in the conversation - meaning that only the reporter is required to know that the conversation is being taped.