Guardian journalist Decca Aitkenhead, writing this weekend, reflected on what makes a good interview. She has interviewed well-known politicians, sports stars, celebrities and academics and her pieces are often compelling, giving a real insight into her interviewees.
Her recent column looked at things from the perspective of the journalist and the reader, explaining how she gets her interviewees to open up, answer personal questions and reveal truths. She explains the importance of turning the interview into a conversation and how, under the right circumstances people are often very happy to talk about themselves, even when it gets personal. Those in the aftermath of a scandal often explain they won’t be talking about it but go on to spill the beans.
For those who are likely to find themselves interviewed by a journalist, the piece serves as a reminder of the need to recognise that an interview is not a conversation and the importance of sticking to your message.
Many journalists will allow a story to develop based on what you and others tell them. Some however will have preconceived ideas as to how they want a story to turn out and may try to persuade you to say something that doesn’t follow your firm’s direction. Others will be searching out potential news stories.
With good preparation and rehearsal of what you want to say, you should be able stick to your key messages, answer difficult questions and avoid revealing things you hadn’t intended to. In the world of legal journalism, a throw away comment about a potential merger, a new strategy or an office move can create headlines.
Despite the option of speaking ‘off the record’ it is usually safer to stick to the approach that if you don’t want the world to know something about you or your firm, don’t tell a journalist. If you have a good relationship with them you can always say, “Let’s talk off the record and then you tell me what you’d like to quote”. Most journalists will respect that.
In the most part journalist interviews are likely to prove a positive experience and with good preparation can lead to positive coverage of your firm. They are also a great way to build longer term relationships with key publications and can give rise to further opportunities to get your news out there and comment in future articles.
An interview is not the same thing as a conversation, but it’s my job to make the subject feel as if it is. No one talks freely under interrogation, or if conscious of every word being recorded, so the art of interviewing lies in creating the atmosphere of a kitchen table chat.