Steps to conducting a good interview.

By Ongeziwe Yashe

Interviews are essential to the work of journalists and therefore need to be conducted correctly and with care. This was the central message shared by Cheryl W Thompson, an associate professor in journalism at George Washington University who was speaking at The Art of the Interview session at the African Investigative Journalism Conference (AIJC), held at Wits University on Wednesday, October 31.

Thompson shared her top tips on conducting interviews based on her experience as an investigative journalist for over 30 years.

“Starting with a strong question will put a person on the defense” – Cheryl W. Thompson warned during the Art of the Interview session. Photo: Khanyi Mutshekwane

As part of the interview procedure, a journalist should conduct research on the source and the story that they will be covering, said Thompson. An individual has to go through all of the documents, clips and any data they can get their hands on, to ensure that they are well prepared for the interview. She added, “A good interviewer already knows the answer to the question, because they have researched the topic well.’’

Thompson stressed the importance of writing down questions to ensure that the interview is not side-tracked. Writing the questions down also helps to arrange a story chronologically, “People don’t talk chronologically, they need you to guide them,’’ said Thompson.

Thompson went on to highlight the importance of asking the right questions and not giving up until they have been answered. She said, “Never leave the interview without your questions being answered. If there is limited time and there are still burning questions, ask the important one.’’

Thompson concluded with the importance of letting the interviewee have the last word, by posing a question, similar to, “is there anything you want to say?’’ Throughout the session, Thompson gave the audience advice on handling difficult sources and those who were unwilling to speak.

“When someone is reluctant to share, tell them that it will help somebody else,” she added.

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