Conducting a successful and informative interview is an art form that requires much more skill that just getting the answers to who, what, where, when, and why. Good journalism interview techniques are designed to provide more than just information, they should help develop a story with personality and insight into the events in question.
The first important journalism interview technique that will help your article stand out is to do your research first. Before coming face to face with your interviewee, you need to have as much information about the people and situation as is possible. This will allow you to focus your questions on the points you are trying to uncover and elaborate on. It will help put the person you are talking to more at ease as they realize you are familiar with the subject.
Prepare the questions you want to ask ahead of time. Organize these questions in an order that will keep the conversation focused on the topic. Avoid jumping from one point to another as this can confuse your interviewee and is more likely to get you short, disjointed answers rather than a conversational explanation of a particular topic. Make sure your questions flow naturally through the direction you want the interview to go.
Try to never ask questions that only require a “yes” or “no” answer. Be sure to give your interviewee the chance to elaborate on the subject you are talking about. Open-ended questions are most likely to get you the information you need from your subject. Asking for the person’s opinions or an explanation “in their own words” is more likely to get the person to open up and provide you with a wealth of information to work with.
Don’t be afraid to persist in coming back to an important point that the interviewee may be trying to avoid. Think of several ways to lead the discussion back to the topic that is being glossed over. It is possible they just do not understand at first what you are asking. Working your way back can give them another chance to answer you. By wording the question a different way they may find themselves providing answers on the subject even when they are trying to avoid disclosing too much at first.
At all times maintain a manner that shows interest in what the person is saying to you. Often a nod or brief grunt of understanding will encourage people to continue talking without you having to interrupt them. Always wait a moment after they finish speaking in case they are just trying to formulate the next sentence they wish to say. Maintain eye contact so the person you are talking to knows you are following what they say.
It is always a good idea to get permission to record the interview. Assure them that the reason for this is so that there is no error in what you quote them as saying. Emphasize how it is for their own benefit that the tape can help prevent misunderstanding or confusion about what was said when the interview is finalized in writing. This will also protect you from accusations of misquote or journalistic bias if you are able to play back exactly what was said. If the person allows it, have a second person listening and taking notes as well so that there is a better documentation of the interview.