When I began my journalistic career on my then evening newspaper, I was first sent away with other cub reporters to complete my training. As you can imagine, there was a lot to learn. Some of that knowledge, like the finer points of the 1968 Theft Act or how to stop nodding-off during tedious planning sub-committee meetings, have now faded largely from my memory.
But the basic skills of what to ask when conducting an interview have never left me. In fact, without even having to remind myself, I use those crucial skills every working day if I’m doing an interview either in person or over the phone.
If you’re writing a press release, content for an in-house publication or a story to send to the local or national media, here are five key ways to make your story look as professional as possible.
<1> Even if you know you’re interviewing Jane Thomas or John Smith, always check how they spell their name. You could actually be talking to Jayne Tomas or Jon Smyth. You will feel an absolute fool if you spell somebody’s name incorrectly.
<2> It might sound impertinent but ask the interviewee their age too. It puts the person in your story in context and helps build up a better picture of them in the readers’ mind. If Frank Brown, aged 16, was a keen skateboarder, you might think that’s a pretty normal interest for a teenage boy. But if Frank is 85, that makes it a much more interesting angle. Be aware, some people for their own reasons are very guarded about their age, so you might draw a blank. So if you don’t manage to find it, at least feel satisfied you asked them the question.
<3> Ask them where they live. Again, this information helps contextualise them and is relevant to the reader. If you’re writing for the readership in a specific geographical location, naming the village or city or even the part of the town they are based will create more interest in your story which could ‘hook’ in the locals.
<4> Find out what they do for a job. As with other personal details, knowing this helps offer another layer of detail to the story you’re writing. If we’re honest, most of us are somewhat nosy and like to know how others earn a living. But don’t get too caught up in giving them their full title if it’s very long-winded or full of acronyms: often a summary such as ‘works in retail’ or ‘shop assistant’ will suffice.
<5> If you’re writing a profile piece or a story which demands a strong personal angle, ask the interviewee if they are married/have a partner as well as if they have children, grandchildren, etc. Clearly this isn’t usually necessary for a purely business-themed story, but if this content is going to present them in a more human way, don’t be afraid to ask.