The Art of the Interview

Yesterday I got to listen to a colleague make a call that would have intimidated anyone. My colleague received a bunch of emails from a local political figure where the person was using racial slurs to describe the president of the United States (look for the story, it should be out soon), and he was trying to talk to the guy who wrote them.

That, in my opinion, is when reporters have to earn their dinner. And he was doing a fantastic job.

I don’t often have a list of questions when I call for an interview, but then again I have no problem calling back a second or third time to ask what I forgot to ask the first time. If I call back again that’s when I’ll have a list — it’ll be those things that I missed. Usually if I missed something with one person and I’ve got a few more people to talk to I’ll get it from someone else, but then there are those times only that one person can answer. That’s when you call back again and again.

I had to call a State Police officer four times before he would speak to me for a recent story. I left messages and may have even sent a couple emails, but people have a much harder time ignoring you when you have them on the phone (even more true when you have them in person).

When you have to ask someone something hard you have to explain to them you want to get their side out there. Sometimes that doesn’t work. The other day I was trying to convince a police officer who had recently resigned that his resignation was too close to when money was stolen from the police department for me to leave him out of the story. It would be a glaring hole in the story, I said, and I have to include it (I was told he resigned the Friday of the week the money was found missing). He did talk to me, although he said he would have preferred I had left his name out of the story entirely.

That’s what it is — convincing people you aren’t their enemy, that you just want to give them a chance to speak. I try my best to represent what they say accurately, but sometimes they don’t think you do. A selectman I cover is constantly complaining he is taken out of context, but then he repeats exactly what I say he said. He doesn’t like to be controversial, but some of his views are, and people react strongly to them. Those complaints are going to come in. Not much you can do but keep trying to be true to your subject’s intent as best you understand it.

I love interviewing. I’m not a talkative person by nature, but people want to tell reporters things. I’m happy to be on the other side of the table from them when they speak.

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