If you write articles for magazines, you may well need to interview someone as part of the research. Even articles which are not specifically about an individual can often be brought to life with a few well chosen quotes. I have interviewed people for magazine articles on several occasions and this is some of what I have learned along the way.
1) How to approach the person – If the person is based within an organisation, then check their website to see if they have a Press or Media Relations office (it could also come under Communications or Marketing). It is tempting to try to bypass this by going straight to the person you want to interview, however it is best not to. It is not simply a courtesy to go through the proper channels, it is also to your benefit. The Press Officer is your friend; they will recognise the potential benefit of the free publicity that your article could bring. They will probably be very helpful in arranging the interview, and also providing you with extra information and photographs if needed. I always use email for my initial approach, then I can ensure I cover everything I need to cover succinctly.
2) The choice of interview method – I always offer them a choice of two methods. If the person is locally based I would offer to either come and do a face-to-face interview, or to do a phone interview. If they are based further away I offer either a phone interview or emailed questions. My preferred interview method is face-to-face, so for a local person I would lean them towards that option.
3) Preparation – Whatever interview method has been settled upon, you need ensure that you get the maximum benefit out of the shortest time. Plan a set of questions, but don’t cover factual information which can be found on their website. Research the factual information first, and then use the questions to tease out additional information and to obtain some interesting quotes. Remember to keep thinking back to the purpose of the article to ensure that your questions feed into that.
4) The interview itself – Start off by checking that the interviewee understands what the purpose of the article is, and how you will be using their answers within it. Use your questions as a guide, but don’t worry about sticking rigidly to them. You will get more out of the interviewee if they feel it is a natural conversation rather than a questionnaire. If there are some questions that you definitely need answered, then make sure you have clearly marked those on your sheet so that you don’t miss them. If the interviewee goes off on a tangent too much, you may need to pull them back on course, so have in mind a couple of possible lines you can use to do that without offending them. Something like “I’m conscious of not wanting to take up too much of your time, and there are couple of questions we still need to cover, so can I ask you about…”.
5) Special requests – Be prepared that sometimes interviewees will make particular requests, such as asking to see the final copy before it goes to print, or wanting a particular piece of information to be definitely included. It’s best not to promise anything that you might not have control over. I always answer that the article is out of my hands once I have submitted it to the editor but that I will certainly pass their requests on.
6) Writing up the article – Take care not to misrepresent what they have said. It is acceptable, and usually necessary, to paraphrase, but be sure you are not altering the meaning. I like to think of everyone I interview as someone I would like to interview again in the future; keeping that in mind ensures I’m careful not to upset them by twisting their words.
7) Follow up – I always make sure the interviewee gets to see a copy of the article after it is published. Either an emailed link if it is available online, or by posting a hard copy of the magazine to them. It’s an opportunity to thank them again for their time, and they will almost certainly appreciate the gesture.
And of course it goes without saying that you need to be friendly, courteous and professional at every stage!
Do you have any experience of doing this, or tips to add?