Interviews with subject matter experts and “real people” give media coverage color and credibility. But if you only have 10 minutes with an expert, how can you make the most of that time and get all the information you need?
This checklist offers some tips and strategies for reporters before and during an interview. Even if talking to sources is old hat for you, it’s worth a quick refresher, especially since some of these tips may not have come up during J-school.
Before the Interview
Check time zones. If you’re conducting an interview via phone, Zoom, skype, or Google Hangout, make it clear what time zone you’re in and ask the source for their time zone. Otherwise, it’s not unusual for publicists or experts to assume that you’re all in the same time zone, which can lead to missed calls and frustration.
Make sure this is the correct person to interview. The last thing you want is to schedule an interview with someone only to have them pass you off to a colleague or discover that they misunderstood what you need. Unless you’re doing an investigative piece where you don’t want to show your cards, explain the kind of expertise you’re looking for and confirm the job title of the person you’re interviewing so you don’t wind up talking to the wrong person.
Double-check recording equipment. If you plan to record the interview, take a few minutes beforehand to check your recording equipment. Allow enough time for a software update or battery replacement just in case.
During the Interview
Ask permission before recording. If you’re recording the interview, always ask the source’s permission first. I usually state that I’m recording the interview so I can accurately quote them.
Check names and job titles. Even if you’ve quoted someone before, always reconfirm their name and title in case anything has changed. If the job title they give you doesn’t match what’s on the company website or their LinkedIn profile, ask for clarification, especially if you know the fact-checker will cross-reference those materials.
Confirm pronouns. Don’t make assumptions based on someone’s photo or the sound of their voice. Ask what pronouns your source uses so you can correctly identify them.
Ask what else you should know. I like to conclude interviews by asking the person if there’s anything else I should know about the topic. “Who else should I talk to?” is another good closer.
Explain next steps. Some sources are more media-savvy than others, so it may be helpful to give them a heads up on next steps. Do you plan on emailing them the next day with follow-up questions? Should they expect to hear from a fact-checker? Does the art director need photos? Publication dates are often subject to change, but if you can give them a ballpark on when the piece might be published, you’ll reduce the number of emails you get asking “has this published yet?”