tom cruise interview image from thevine

Reacting to Magazine Interviewing 101

My first crash course in my journalism degree threw me head first into interviewing. And surprisingly in the space of 2 days I learnt a lot, or at least realised what I need to learn.

Questioning different types of people

I think you need different skills/tactics depending on type of person you’re interviewing.

If you interview (or know you will be interviewing, if you have that luxury) someone really interesting then I imagine this is generally easier as they the have great stories to tell and the confidence and initiative to tell them.  The skills here then I guess would be simply asking the few right questions that will spark them off.  Also if you have a limited time in which to interview and you know they’re going to talk lots, it’s probably about asking the right questions and steering the questions and conversation to make sure you find out what you and your audience really want to know.  (And obviously you need to very sure of what it is that you really want to know before hand!)

If the interviewee is less obviously interesting or at least hesitant with their responses, I guess the ‘skill’ of interviewing becomes more important.  You need to know how to get interesting information out of them by asking the right questions, in the right way.  You also need to be paying close attention to what they say and be able to pick up and follow up anything interesting they mention, as you might be able to develop an great insight from something they touch on, that you hadn’t even thought of.  I like the idea that everyone is interesting and has a story to tell.  You could try and make the story interesting to anyone, i.e. if you write well you can make anything sound interesting.  Or you can just try and put yourself in the mind of someone who would be interested in this person’s story, and ask questions you think they would want to know.

Types of questions
In my interview, I went down the road of asking more deep emotional questions as this tends to be what I find interesting when I read an interview… but I realise that I ended up with a lack of actual factual detail which, when I think about it now, does frame an interview and make it specific to that person. The deeper comments are only interesting when they are contextualised. That said, when it is largely facts that are gleaned in the raw interview, it does seem then that the interviewer when writing up the profile tends to put in her own interpretations of the facts into the article. While this may be interesting, it is not strictly what a reader is reading for, they are reading to find out about the interviewee, not what the interviewer thinks. When I think about this further I wonder if actually this type of interview (more interviewer’s interpretation) is similar to a review; that the interviewer is ‘reviewing’ the interviewee. In a review it is expected that we get the writers opinion, so why not in an interview? Both seek to showcase the discussed item (be it a celebrity or a film), so why are we taught that in an interview the interviewer should not put herself in the article?

The ethics of representation- sounding good vs. ‘reality’.
When writing a profile it worries me that it is possible to make a massive assumtion via your interpretation of someone. With a mock profile I wrote about an author, I implied that maybe the reason that she wasn’t in a relationship was because she was overshadowed by the earlier relationship with her father. I didn’t know this to be true, it was just one interpretation you could make from what she had said, and it sounded interesting. But what if she didn’t want people to think that? Yet had this been an actual published piece, a chunk of the public may now believe it to be true. It has been suggested that what regulates an interviewer more is not so much the law but rather whether what you print and how you use information will make other potential interviewees trust you. On the other hand, a friend of mine suggested that she would sometimes create or embellish quotes in her work but that was because a lot of what she wrote were advertorials, and so the interviewees liked that they were made to sound better and more interesting. So would that also apply to individuals promoting themselves or their work, since most interviewees (at least in magazine terms) are there to promote something or other? Since a profile in its nature is a colourful presentation of quotes and facts about a person, maybe it is just accepted and inevitable that there will be some interpretation or angle on it. If there weren’t it would be a Q&A piece.

Being interviewed
In one of our tasks we had to pair up to interview each other, so I also got to experience being interviewed. And boy did that make me feel more sympathy for celebrities and anyone who has to be interviewed. When you suddenly realise that every word you say and even every gesture could be put down in print for the world (well, maybe not in this case but it’s the same feeling) to see, you suddenly enter a whole new social code. There is no accepted courtesy that more emotional or private things won’t leave the room, and yet at the same time you are allowing yourself to be asked often very personal questions by someone you don’t know very well. I’m sure interviewees get used to it, but it’s definitely a new art to learn.

A note about notes (and shorthand)
I’m studying shorthand under the premise that you may not always have a Dictaphone to hand or you still can’t rely on it if you do.  That’s fair enough.  But even assuming that I get up to 100 words-per-minute (the required speed for print journalists), I’m still not sure how it’s going to work when interviewing, because it is difficult if not impossible to listen, respond, ask questions and keep eye contact while writing that fast.  I can only assume that with shorthand you get to a stage where you need not look at the page (in same way I don’t need to look at a keyboard while I’m typing).  Or at least I hope this is the case, or that I find out another way that this is all possible!


So there are my very first and very raw thoughts on interviewing and writing profiles. If anyone has any thoughts on this please share in the comments!  I’m very new to all this so will inevitable learn more as I go along but I’d love to discuss what I’ve seen so far…


tom cruise interview image from thevine

Top ten awkward celebrity interviews via The Vine

Photo credit: The Vine

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