Interview Tips from Youth Radio’s Newsroom

March 3, 2008

We’ve got our interview tips posted inside the Teach Youth Radio section of YR’s site, but they’re kinda buried there, so I thought I’d add them here as well. 

Interview Tips from Youth Radio’s Newsroom

When young people are given the chance to frame and pose interesting questions, they “flip the script” on old-school modes of education, in which students are, typically, the ones asked to answer questions, but not to raise them. Interviews also challenge young people to move beyond their assumptions about the topics they care about, and to analyze responses in ways that further their stories and honor their interviewees. Interviews are, essentially, exercises in intellectual curiosity through conversation. Here are some interview tips from Youth Radio reporters.

Getting started:1. Always remember to ask for name and age (where appropriate), and get permission to use your interviewees’ voices and names in your story.2. Start with “easy” questions—ones your subject should feel really comfortable answering, so you can build a rapport. It can be effective to start with general questions, then move to specifics.3. Let your interviewees know that you’d like to be able to use their answers without hearing your questions, so ask them to answer in full sentences. For example, if you ask, “At what age did you first meet your biological mother?” if they answer, “12,” ask them if they’ll repeat their answer in such a way that includes the question—i.e., “I met my bio mom for the first time when I was 12 years old.”4. Before you start the interview, make a checklist of the information you absolutely must get from your subject and bring that list with you.5. Brainstorm the kinds of things that make you feel inspired to disclose aspects of your own life, and try to create those conditions in your interview.Getting into it:1. Think about what you want to reveal about yourself—how you can make the interview feel like a real conversation, and not a grilling (but be careful about speaking “over” your subject—that can make it harder to use the tape).2. This one’s obvious, but easy to forget: avoid “yes/no” questions! Frame your probes in ways that elicit stories and vivid details. Don’t hesitate, at any point, to say, “Can you give me a specific example or memory of what you’re talking about?” or “That’s really interesting…Can you say a little bit more?” or even, “I’m not sure I understand—can you kind of bring me back to that moment…”3. Try not to “lead the witness”—in other words, asking questions that reveal your own biases, or making your interviewee feel pressured to answer in a certain way.4. Even if you have a detailed list of questions, make sure you really listen to your interviewees as they speak, and respond to what you hear, and not only what you came prepared to ask. Experiment with prepping a list of questions, but then jotting one-word cues for each question along the margin of the page, so you only have to glance down to remember what to ask, and that way you can stay engaged in a real conversation with your interviewee.5. Always a great follow-up question: “And then what happened?” Remember that the best tape comes from characters telling specific stories that bring you into the details of their lives, not articulating generalized positions or simplified points of view. Finishing up:1. Review your checklist of crucial information and make sure you covered everything before you say good-bye.2. At the end of the interview, ask subjects if they have anything to add (that question often yields the most interesting material!), and make sure to get their contact information and ask permission to get in touch again if anything further comes up.