Tips of the trainer


You only have to watch TV to discover several different interviewing styles.

Newsnight’s Jeremy Paxman has a hard-hitting, confrontational style.

Martin Bashir, who interviewed Michael Jackson, is far more amenable.

And Mrs Merton (played by Caroline Ahern) relies on charm and coy humour.

But all of these interviewers achieve results. They get information out of people – many of whom may have been reluctant to give it.

Each journalist will have a different interviewing style – it all depends on your personality. And part of the skill of interviewing is to assess your own strengths and characteristics, and then develop these into a successful interviewing style.


There are techniques that can help us master the skills of interviewing, no matter what style we may use.

The most successful interviews are usually the ones where the journalist has done their homework:

1. Research the subject. Every story has a history or a context. The more you know about the background to the story, the better equipped you will be for the interview.

2. Research the person. It will also help you if you know everything you can about the person or people you are interviewing: their careers, their high spots, low spots, views, etc.

3. Be well equipped. Make sure you take a clean notebook and several pens into the interview with you. If you are using a tape recorder, make sure it works, that you have a tape in it and that you have good batteries and a set of spares.

4. Dress appropriately. If you are interviewing Prince Charles, you will probably dress differently than you would if you were interviewing the coach at the local boxing club. But whoever you are interviewing, be smart and well presented. Make sure you use the deodorant and the mouthwash.

5. Be aware of deadlines. There is no point getting some great quotes from someone at 11am if your deadline was 10.30am. The deadline may have a bearing on the length and style of the interview.

6. Be sure what type of story is expected.

Many news and feature editors will direct you about the type and length of story they are looking for. Keep this in mind. This doesn’t preclude you from obtaining other information, but make sure you get what you went for. There is no point in conducting a two-hour interview if the editor only wants a 100-word story.

7. Prepare a list of questions in advance. Write down a thorough list of questions once you have researched your subject and your interviewee.

Your list should always include who, what, when, where, how and why.

And it should tackle the story’s past and future. Put yourself in the place of the interviewee and ask yourself: ‘What will they want to say?’ and ‘What won’t they want to say?’ Select your questions accordingly. When you arrive at the interview, tear the list out of your notebook so you can put it on the table next to you. This makes it easier to refer to.

8. Check the location and directions. If you are travelling to meet someone, make sure you know how to get there.

It gets the interview off to a bad start if you are late.

Cleland Thom runs Journalism Training Services E-mail: cleland.thom@tesco.net Website: www.ctjt.biz

by Cleland Thom

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