The Interview Hierarchy

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I’ve been thinking a lot about interviews lately. Not the job interview kind, but the kind where I grill people with pointed questions trying to extract valuable information and what I like to call “juicy quotes.” Today’s lesson in journalism is a simple one and shouldn’t take much of your time. I call this the interview hierarchy, and it goes a little something like this:

In-person > Phone > Email

In-Person Interviews

These ones are always the best because it gives you a face to face interaction with the source. I have always found that in person interviews are the most fruitful and turn up the best quotes because during the interaction it is a lot easier to develop rapport and have a dialogue about the story. Going in person allows you to make an impression, and it also gives you some valuable time out of the house which is so prized when you’re a freelancer working from home all day. It’s nice to have an excuse to get out and do some field work, and you might also end up finding some new clients or story ideas on the way. I however also find that in-person interviews tend to be the longest, and I often end up interviewing more than one person at a time, so these take the most skill and composure to execute.


Phone Interviews

These are second best, but I find most of my interviews are done over the phone because it’s more convenient and faster. The one downfall of in-person interviews is the travel time to and from the meeting, and these hours are not billable unless your publication wants to reimburse your travel expenses. Doing it over the phone is necessary, of course, if you’re interviewing someone from another province or state. When it comes to phone interviews I like to keep it relatively short. 10 minutes is ideal. 15 minutes max. More than that and the interview is too long. I can get everything I need in under 15 minutes. If it goes longer than that there will likely be a lot of useless material on the tape that I end up skipping over.


Email Interviews

This is the least desirable method. The reason why is because over email you can’t follow up immediately, and you can’t gauge your source’s reactions. The plus side, however, is that it’s the least amount of work on your end. All you have to do is fire off a list of questions and wait for a reply, and then you don’t even have to transcribe a tape because everything is in the email. All you have to do is cut and paste. Email interviews are fine if you just want to get a quick statement and the source can’t talk on the phone. But when you use quotes from an email don’t accredit them with “said” because that gives the impression you actually talked to them when really you didn’t. The correct form is to say “so-and-so wrote in an email” or something like that.


Class dismissed!


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