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How To Write A Good Interview

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Saleable interviews aren’t necessarily with the rich and famous. Every specialist magazine editor will be interested in sparky interviews with those who participate in that particular subject, career, sport, hobby or profession. Of the hundreds of sporting interests, for example, you can guarantee that every one has a magazine to cater for sportsmen and women at all levels of competence from National Hunt racing and snow-boarding to table tennis. Your own blend of journalism and sporting interest will govern the level of the publication for which you can realistically write. Editors are generally looking for experts and active participants, although the enthusiastic amateur might just get the occasional break if we just happen to be in the right place at the right time
Having secured your appointment, turn up on time and looking professional.
Don’t waste time with unnecessary chit-chat, you’re there to do a job not begin a meaningful relationship.
Have a list of questions ready when you go to the interview, arranged in the order you want to ask them. The order in which you want to write them up is irrelevant at this stage, but experienced journalists ask inoffensive questions until the interviewee feels relaxed and safe, and go onto the critical subjects later. One unwelcome question at the beginning may ruin the rest of the interview.
For prospective interviewees begin by looking close to home. Local free-papers will give details of people who have recently done something interesting, so be on the look-out for potential interviews you can sell to national or specialist publications. Heart-rending local stories might miss the national news but weekly magazines such as That’s Life! and Take a Break are always looking for true life drama. Consult the local ‘What’s On’ listings to see if there is a new production, sporting event, or fund raiser that can be reported on for specialist magazines.
Be flexible about the unexpected turns a story may take; some of your questions may turn out to be a dead-end, while your writer’s instinct will suggest new angles. Most people are helpful and eager to impress, although some will ask questions to test your knowledge and possibly undermine your self-confidence. Simply ignore them, even if you know the answer, and continue. You are the journalist - you ask, they answer.
Write the interview up as soon as possible, while you can still read your notes and while your impressions are fresh.
You will not be able to use all the interesting information you have, at least not in one article. Concentrate on one aspect for each publication.
It’s acceptable to shorten answers, restructure sentences, drop repetitions, correct the grammar and rephrase certain answers so that they read better. Don’t be tempted to change the tiniest bit of meaning – or you will be in deep trouble.
Don’t even think about writing up a Q&A interview - it’s the mark of an amateur and incredibly boring to read. This format tells the reader nothing about the interviewee, since most of the standard answers can be found in a dozen other similar pieces. The secret of the good interview is to make the subject come alive against a casually mentioned backdrop.
Some interviewees will ask to see the feature before it goes into print. If they insist, offer to read it out to them on the telephone. They can then correct obvious misunderstandings, without a chance to consult anyone.
Send a proposal to the editor in the same way you would submit any article proposal, with the additional ‘carrot’ that the interviewee has just completed the New York marathon, won a prestigious award, written a book, etc. Look at the chat shows on television, nearly every one will feature someone who is about to launch a new series, book, film or show and the lesser celebs are no different when it comes to publicity.
For the best examples of how to interview, study the celebrity features in the weekend colour supplements - particularly the Daily Telegraph.
A well-prepared interview of 30 minutes provides ample material for a 1000 word feature; one hour should be the maximum if you have several markets in mind.
It’s advisable to make contact with the targeted editor before approaching anyone with a request for an interview. Most people will ask where and when the finished piece is going to appear, so you’ll need an answer ready.


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