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Sunday, December 10, 2023

Hail to the Chief

So last week I promised to give you some reporter tips, and here they are!

When last we left our hero (you), you had developed a story idea that an editor of a publication you’re aware of would want to print in their fine publication. What’s next?

First, you’ll want to do some research. When you start interviewing people and asking questions, you’ll want to sound as informed as possible. If you’re going to ask someone about a book they wrote, you should have at least skimmed the book. If you’re asking a researcher about a science experiment, you should have read any articles or papers they’ve published on the subject. You know, easy stuff. This will make whomever you’re interviewing like you more and think you’re smart. Which brings us to point two:

Coming up with questions. Once you’ve done some research, you should start thinking about who to interview and what you want to ask them. Whomever you talk to should be more knowledgeable than the average personpreferably an expertabout whatever you’re writing on. Failing that, they should be someone who is extremely relevant to the subject matter. Someone who just had their bike stolen, for example, would be a good person to talk to about bike theft on campus.

When coming up with questions to ask people, put yourselves in the shoes of the reader and ask questions that they would want to hear the answers to. Remember, your readers haven’t done the same research you have. Sometimes you’ll need to ask questions you already know the answer to. Some reporters hesitate to do this when they’re new, but it’s important to remember that getting a good, informative quote is more important than your pride.

If you’ve thought about questions you think the reader would like to know the answer to but still don’t feel like you have enough, evaluate what you’ve already come up with. Readers like numbers. If you mention money in an article, you should mention an exact dollar amount if possible. If a new store is opening, you’ll want to include its open hours. Common sense should be a pretty good guide as you come up with questions. Once you’re done with that, you should be ready to:

Interview people. This is one of the most important aspects of reporting your story. For every story that you do, you’re going to have to interview people about whatever you’re reporting on. Any self-respecting publication is going to require you to have at least three different sources. There are a couple ways you can go about this.

One way is to interview them in person. You should call ahead of time and set up a mutually beneficial time and place for the interview. Talking to someone in person is advisable because you can see their reactions and have a better feel for how the interview is going.

A lot of the time, however, a face-to-face interview is not possible for whatever reason. In this case, the next best thing is a phone interview. It’s important to get over any fear you have of cold-calling people and asking them a series of questions. This can be hard for some people, but the best way to get over this is to just start calling people. Eventually you will get used to it. When interviewing someone over the phone, make sure that you’re smiling. They won’t be able to see it, but it will affect your tone of voice, which impacts their impression of you. Even if whomever you’re calling is being rude or very unhelpful, it’s important to remain unfailingly polite at all times. You may have to call them back or deal with them in the future, and even if you don’t, being polite never hurt anybody.

There will be instances in which you need to contact someone but cannot do it in person or over the phone (some contact listings don’t include phone numbers, for example). If you can find someone’s e-mail address, it is acceptable to conduct an e-mail interview. This is only advisable if you’re under a tight deadline and you don’t have either of the other options available to you. Ideally you’ll have enough time to e-mail them to ask for a phone number you can reach them at so you can conduct a phone interview. But don’t be afraid to e-mail interview if that’s what it comes down to.

So be a journalist and ask those questions! Next week we’ll talk about what to do once you’ve interviewed some folks.


RICHARD PROCTER can be reached at editor@theaggie.org.


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