pedagogy | podcasting | Students

The art of the interview

Journalism + Design students throughout the program are working to master their interview skills.

Helping them out this semester is New School alumnus Kevin Dugan, now the Wall Street reporter for the The New York Post. Here are some of the tips he’s been sharing with students for walking up to a source, getting what you need — and getting out alive:

  • Don’t ever, ever, ever give a big preamble to your question. Just ask it. If you spend more time asking a question than your subject does answering, it signals that you don’t know what you’re asking, and it wastes the subject’s time. It also makes it look like you’re asking permission to ask a question–putting you in a position you don’t want to be in.
  • Jargon is a virus. Don’t give in to using cool-sounding phrases that don’t really mean anything. Your job is to provide clarity, not mimic people who are being confusing. Chances are, people who use jargon and clichedon’t know what they’re talking about. And please, I’m begging you, don’t repeat it in print.
  • Be considerate. Journalists in the real world don’t act like they do in movies and TV shows. They treat their subjects like real people, even when those people aren’t being cooperative.

“You obligation is to your reader,” Dugan reminds students. “Not to your subject… If they want to spread their own message, they can go on Twitter.”

But how do you approach an interview that’s supposed to have the feel of an intimate conversation? The hard and fast rules of straight reporting don’t always apply in the radio world, as students in Podcasting have been discussing — or at least, those rules need to be balanced with other considerations. Without giving away Benjamen Walker’s Theory of Accessible Interviewing, suffice to say that one must cultivate a certain kind of finesse before sitting down with a beloved children’s book author and asking him to reflect on his life choices, as NPR’s Terry Gross did in this masterful 2011 interview with Maurice Sendak:

There’s that, and then there’s confronting an ex to find out exactly why he rejected you, as Walker’s class listened to podcaster Lea Thau do in a very bold episode of her show Strangers. From that, we can take away one more tip for successful interviews: it helps to really want to know the answer to your question.

Featured image via Andréanne Germain, Flickr