Effective Interviewing

David Frost interviews then President Richard Nixon in 1977.
David Frost interviews then President Richard Nixon in 1977.

An interview is a conversation with a source who has information.

Effective interviewing
  • Have a clear idea of the purpose for your interview
  • Prepare carefully and consider your lines of questioning
  • Interview rigorously but fairly
  • Remain well-mannered at all times
Why be prepared?
  • Doing your homework helps you establish a rapport with the person you are interviewing. It shows them you have taken the time to research them before the interview.
  • It also boosts the interviewee’s confidence in you.
  • It stops the interviewee from fooling or bamboozling you.
How to be prepared
  • Check the Internet.
  • Check the library for news clippings.
  • Think about what you want from the interview. What is the main point of the story? What are the arguments you need to flesh out? Consider the structure of your story.
  • You’ll need quotes, anecdotes and other evidence to support the story. What lines of questioning will elicit these?
  • Some people write out their questions, others jot down notes. But never follow your list to the letter as it stops you from listening to the answers you are being given and following up new leads.
  • Think about what the person’s attitude towards you is likely to be. What is their role in the event? Whose side are they on? What kind of answers could you logically expect to your key questions?
The interview
  • First impressions count. Be appropriately dressed. Introduce yourself politely, give your name and the news organisation you represent. In a one-to-one, consider icebreakers
  • A good way to start is to gather basic information e.g. check full names and spelling of those involved, titles, ages and addresses
  • Tailor questions to the person you are interviewing. Follow up interesting leads
  • Always be polite
  • Make sure you have all their contact details – their home phone number, office number, fax number, mobile number, weekend email address, holiday home address and phone number
  • Transcribe your interview as soon as you can
Questioning for interview
  • Answer the five Ws and H. Use lots of open questions: What happened? What happened next? Where did they go? What did they do then? How did they react?
  • If you are adding colour to your story, slow the interview and get every detail you can. What happened at every moment? What did they see? The colours, the smells, the noises. Where were they standing? What were people wearing? What was the weather like?
  • Sometimes silence is ok. People will automatically fill in gaps in a conversation.
What is a good quote?
  • It says something more descriptive than you could write
  • It says something unique
  • It says something usual but in a unique manner
  • It says something that the reader needs to hear verbatim from the source

Quotes bring the human element to stories.

How to get a good quote

Listen carefully to what an interviewee says, show you are interested in their story and follow up any promising leads. If you don’t listen, you will miss the quotes, and if you appear indifferent to a source, they will not give you their best.


Really useful – 12 basics of interviewing, listening and note-taking, from Poynter

Ed’s Rules for interviewing, from Edward Champion’s Reluctant Habits

The Art of the Pre-Interview, from Transom


” … like watching someone try to staple Jell-o to a wall …” Vox on “nightmare” interviewee Kellyanne Conway:

ABC 7.30 – Sarah Ferguson grills Joe Hockey:

ABC 7.30 – Artist Ben Quilty talks about saying goodbye to Myuran Sukumaran

Andrew Denton interviews actor Richard E. Grant, parts 1 and 2:

Leigh Sales interviews the Leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott (2013)


Alan Jones interviews PM Julia Gillard, 2GB


Record a short interview.

    • Have a purpose for your interview – what are you trying to find out?
    • Write a list of questions, then read them aloud to yourself – use the 5Ws and H to guide your line of questioning
    • Check your recording equipment – more on this in our class discussion
    • If you can, take notes while you interview – it helps you listen to what the other person is saying, and makes it easier to ask follow-up questions
    • Upload your interview to this folder in the Google Drive
OMG who can I interview rn!? 
    • Phone a friend
    • Contact someone you don’t know – think about how the latest developments might have affected people  (the local cafe, your gym, the local GP)
    • It’s ok to interview a family member
    • Someone we can feature on TAFE Radio
    • Someone whose story we can post on Off Campus

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