Ask Good Questions and Listen to the Answers: A Source’s Plea to Young Journalists

I get interviewed quite a bit. Once every couple of months or so I’m asked to speak as an “expert” about PR, social media, technology, trends or any other random number of things, mostly by student reporters and TV reporters. I love to talk, so if a reporter shows up prepared, listens and asks good questions, I truly enjoy the process.

Regardless of what kind of content you’re creating (doing journalism, writing e-newsletters or blog posts or feature articles for the company magazine), being a good interviewer will help you tell a better story.

My tips:

Listen. I mean really listen. Even if you’ve researched to the moon and back, you don’t know what you don’t know. And if you’re not listening, you won’t hear what could be the most important part of the story. I’ve been interviewed by young reporters who came in with one idea and we went for a long, long walk (metaphorically speaking) before we got to what the story was really about. I could see the a-ha! and the lightbulb. That’s fun for me! In the vast majority of cases, it’s not about trying to craft the story – as the “expert” academic source, so that’s not my role most of the time – so I enjoy spending time talking through issues and ideas.

Be interested and engaged. I know you’re assigned to cover some boring stuff. I get it. But if you’re sitting with me and asking me about my expertise, chances are I don’t think it’s boring. And if you’re clearly interested, then I will be likely to keep talking. Did I mention I like to talk? If you’re bored or your story is clearly already written, then we’re done.

Don’t be a jerk. I understand the need to ask tough questions of sources and whether you’re the journalist or the source, you need to be ready for those. However, as I mentioned, I’m not that source. And you will need to interview lots of sources like me who, for all intents and purposes, are doing you a favor. Neither of us sits in a more or less powerful position and we’re both likely to have a better outcome if you’re not an asshole.

I’m an easy, easy interview. I want to help you do a good job. But if you aren’t coming in having done some research, prepared with good questions and ready to actually listen, it’s not going to go well.

I asked friends and colleagues via Facebook:

Journalists: What is your best number one tip for getting a good interview? ONE TIP. I know you have more than that.  Sources/Interviewees: What is your best advice from the interviewees perspective?

And got a big response – you can see all of them here.

Jennifer Soulagnet Interviewers must LISTEN carefully. It’s more than understanding content and tone; it’s being able to find good follow-up questions because you listened to the details of an answer.

Jay Jones Have a conversation.

Melanie Adamson Research and plan. Don’t ask questions you can find yourself.

Rachelle Hacmac ”Awkward” silences often create the most honest moments in an interview.

Janelle Iverson Don’t ever interrupt/stop your interviewee, but also engage. Venture farther than the canned “uh huh…” “Oh, okay…” Responses.

Staci Anne Stringer Do your research and KNOW the subject. That way you can LISTEN to the interviewee and what they are saying and you can take the interview more in-depth and ask genuine questions that may go beyond what you had planned to ask.

So what do you think? Whether you’re a content creator/storyteller or a source – what advice would you give?


Strangers Kissing: Smart or Sleazy?

People don’t like to feel like they’ve been tricked. They don’t like to be drawn into a story and then learn that story is somehow a calculated concoction designed to get them to buy stuff. However, people also don’t like ads. They don’t trust most ads. They ignore them, change the channel, etc.

So should we get mad when an “ad” doesn’t say it’s an ad – doesn’t have a product name prominently displayed, but draws you in and makes you smile, get a little nervous butterfly stomach flutter and leaves you feeling warm and fuzzy because we didn’t know that we were being “sold.”

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Happy kid playing with toy airplane

Taking Flight: “Best Of” Student Blog Posts from Winter 2014

My Strategic PR Writing students blogged twice a week for seven weeks this term. It’s a feat to get all those posts done! I picked a “best of” from each blog to share with you. You can learn more about the background on the students’ assignment here.

Congrats to all 16 of my students on their blogs! In no particular order… here are this term’s best ofs:

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Just Keep Swimming: Week 7 Linky Loves

We’re on the downhill slide of the term. Just three weeks to go (and a ton of grading), and winter term will be in the books. So just keep swimming! We’re almost there.

This week’s links feel very random, to me, but each interesting on its own merits. You can learn more info about these “linky loves” and the background on the students’ assignment here.

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Making the Most of Office Hour Meetings

I truly enjoy meeting with students. One-on-one chats provide time to explain a confusing topic, go over feedback on an assignment or just chat about career (or life) goals. And everyone’s time is valuable – your time as a student, my time as faculty member and a PR pro.

I ask students to make appointments with me using an online calendar system because it helps me manage my schedule and be more available and present for students.

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Gold medal winner

Gold Medal Linky Loves for Week 6

The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia are in full swing. I must admit that I haven’t been watching much, just keeping up on the periphery. However, this week’s linky love best of posts seem to have naturally gravitated toward sport this week on their own with the Olympics, college football signing day and a high-profile NFL potential draftee “coming out.” Even if the topic is sports, the ideas are bigger.
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toddler snow

Snowmageddon Week 5 Linky Loves

As I finish this week’s list of best of links, we’re watching another snowstorm dump inches and inches of snow. We had so much snow in December and it stayed for so long. I’m not a happy camper. Part of the reason is that, regardless of the flake factor, the work goes on. Part of that work for my students is their blogging project! Yay!

This week’s links are a bit of a hodgepodge. You can learn more info about these “linky loves” and the background on the students’ assignment here.

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Celeb PR Not All Red Carpets and Paparazzi: Ask Scarlett Johansson

I can’t pretend that I don’t respond with amusement (and bemusement, for that matter) when a student says that he or she wants to do “entertainment PR.” I know it comes from our celeb-obsessed culture and they hope it means working on red carpets, setting up press junkets and coordinating with the personal stylist to ensure the dress and jewels are fierce.

I know that there’s plenty of that for the select few who rise to that level (and we’ve all seen the awkward publicists hovering and herding on the red carpet at awards shows).

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We’re in the Groove, Now! Week Four Linky Loves

At this point in the term, we’re all finding our groove. We’re far enough into the quarter to have some routines established and expectations for each class calendared out for the term. I’d say that “in the groove” for me this term is more about learning to dance with new partners to new music than to finding routine. But I’m starting to get the hang of that, too.

In my strategic public relations writing class, students have been blogging for two weeks, so they’re finding their own groove. You can learn more info about these “linky loves” and the background on the students’ assignment here.

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Time is money

Time Warp Linky Loves for Week Three

Is it possible for time to both speed up and slow down simultaneously? This time in the term, it both amazes me that we’re already a third of the way through the term (we’re still finding our groove!) and yet, somehow, how is it only week three.

This is our second round of “best of” posts for my students in Strategic Public Relations Communications. You can learn more info about these “linky loves” and the background on the students’ assignment here.

On with the links!

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