Interview tips for journalists that will improve your news story

LaReeca Rucker

A few students recently asked me to give them a few interview tips and a list of good questions to ask their subjects. Here are a few that may help you as you move forward revising your stories. Perhaps you didn’t ask enough questions and want to go back and ask more to make your story longer or complete.

  1. Structure your questions the way you want to write your story. For example, for many feature stories, I start my story at the beginning. What was the person I’m interviewing like as a child? How can you connect the dots in your story from his childhood to present day? Where does he work now, and how did his past influence his present?
  2. Always ask questions that help you gain insight about a person’s entire life from birth to now.
  3. When you reach the present day with your questions, make sure you have done a little research about the person’s company, business, etc. that will enable you to think of good questions to ask them about it.
  4. Always end your interview with the following question: “Is there anything that I haven’t asked you that you would like to add?” This will save you a lot of trouble in the future when someone calls you and says, “The story didn’t include what I really wanted it to say.”

Questions

  1. Ask the person you are interviewing to spell their name – always. It doesn’t matter if you think their name is spelled Mary Sue. It will more than likely be spelled differently, like Mari Soo.
  2. Get their background with a few essential questions: Age? Where are you originally from? Where do you live now? What is your major? (If they are a student.) What are your career aspirations? Goals?
  3. Start at the beginning of their life: What are some of your earliest memories? This may lead to a little story.
  4. What was your favorite thing to do as a child?
  5. Where did you go to elementary school?
  6. What are your favorite elementary school memories? Does anything stand out?
  7. Where did you go to high school?
  8. What were your favorite subjects?
  9. Any high school memories that stand out?
  10. What was your career path like after high school? (This is a good question because some people may not have been to college, and asking about it can make some people feel uncomfortable. The same is true with high school. Some people may not have graduated. So be empathetic when interviewing.)
  11. If they are married, ask: When did you meet your wife?
  12. How and where did you propose?
  13. What year and date were you married?
  14. What did you do after high school or college? What was your first job?
  15. What are some of the memories that stand out from your first job?
  16. What was your next job and memories?
  17. What was your next job and memories?
  18. How did you become interested in doing what you do now?
  19. What is your job like? Can you describe a typical day for me?
  20. What is the hardest thing about your job?
  21. What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned from your job?
  22. What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned in life?
  23. How long have you owned your business?
  24. Can you describe how it’s changed since you first opened?
  25. How much money did you earn the first year compared to now?
  26. What makes your business unique or different from others like it?
  27. What is your business philosophy?
  28. What are your business specialties?
  29. Have their been any new additions to your business in the last few years? What’s new?
  30. Have you added any new products or items for sale?
  31. How has your staff grown since the business first opened?
  32. What do you think are some of the biggest problems your business faces or that you face as a business owner? (It’s always good to save the most difficult questions for the end of the interview.)
  33. Are there a couple of other people you could recommend that I speak to so that I can get some additional information about you and your business for this story?
  34. Is there anything I didn’t ask you that you think would be important to add?
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