Teaching Audio, part 8 -- Interviews


Obviously, the interview is a key component to any audio story. Sometimes, often times, it's good to just listen and let the person do the talking, but it's not always a perfect world. Generally, there are five types of interviews, the explanation interview, from an expert for example, the portrait interview, to bring that person's personality out, the witness interview, for someone who witnessed an important event, the declaration interview, for a newsmaker's reaction to the news, such as a politician, decision-maker who has attended a meeting, and the vox pop interview, man on the street type compilation of opinions. Here are some tips, from before the interview to during and after ....

The pre interview and research phase

Sometimes contact your source beforehand, email, set exact time and place (phone too) so they'll be happy to take the time to be interviewed, with the proper energy, but if it's a breaking story do it on the spot, as an interview that's scheduled for later often falls through. You want to tell them what to expect from the interview, who you are, who you are working for, and set a timeframe and location. But don't give questions in advance, as that will lead to a very dull interview. In terms of preparing questions, it depends on level of person you are interviewing, and how comfortable you are with topic but you actually don't need too much preparation ... You do want to do some research, so you aren't totally clueless. It's good to go in with an open mind, unless you are trying to specifically get certain information, or want to corner someone into getting that information ... You also don't want to be manipulated, and fed lies or propaganda. You want to make sure you are also tailoring questions to aim of end result ... Also important is to prepare equipment, make sure it works well, and if outside don't forget to use wind screen …

When getting ready for an interview, it's also important to look back on news judgment questions for yourself to really center your interview strategy. What is the news? What is the point? Why is this person interesting? Who cares? What is the one thing the listener really needs to find out? What is the one sentence that will really convey the interest of this interview? Would I listen to this?

Interview techniques

Be punctual, respectful, and dress appropriately, with your equipment ready to go

take control ... don't chit chat or act like you are their friend, be human but be professional otherwise it will confuse them … and don't expect them to become your friend or anything other than an interview … turn off cell phones, ac, any distracting noise ....

quiet location (on phone make sure there aren't screaming kids or barking dogs in background, rugs, couches are good, behind walls) avoid starbucks, sometimes good to use natural location but away from action ….

get room tone before interview

placement of mike, six inches from speaker"s mouth to the side to avoid pops …. (if by phone phone placement is important, use speaker phone to record, same with skype, google hangout...)

change mike distance if they start screaming or whispering

wind screens, watch out for bad cable noise, wear headphones

dont use pause button, you might forget

tell your subject you are recording

make eye contact, start a conversation, not an awkward confrontation with recording equipment

vox pop (go where people are waiting), interview before event, people dressed with personality

if more than one person gathered around mike, do one at a time, unless you want group answer

start with warm up questions if you have time, if you don't get straight to your main questions

dont ask questions but … tell me about it … avoid closed questions … induced questions … multiple choice questions

Avoid yes/no closed questions, unless that's what you want and need.

There are also semi-open questions, which are meant to get facts. Open-ended questions are better for soundbites. Many times you will need a mix of questions. Vary them depending on how the interview is going, and what exactly you need for your story.

Do make your questions short questions and then listen ...

one question at a time

stay silent sometimes

be vigilant of being manipulated ...

show me, just like for video, good to get subject to move around, explain, plus you'll get nat sounds and interview soundbites simultaneously

use your recorder as note taking on location narration

don't overlap subject, be quiet, let pregnant pauses be filled

do talk when you are changing batteries so you dont break flow and focus attention on equipment but don't ask important questions then

don't be afraid to ask same question over and over … you're kidding? really?

Sometimes coach person being interviewedhere's one about fears of the Avian flu in zoos and interview of a zoo director acting too much like a scientist ... Here's final story ... listen to beginning of story and part 6:15 ….

don't forget to ask the tough questions.


Here are some links with excellent interview pointers:




Checklist Before You Leave The Scene of the Interview

Here are some of the simple questions you want to make sure you got answers to, before you leave your interview: who? how do you spell that? what? why? where? when? How much will it cost? When will it be done? Who is doing what? Who will be affected? Who will benefit? Who might be a victim? What difference will it make? How do you answer your critics who say this ....? What does it mean? Anything else you want to say? Anyone else I should talk to? Is there anything else going on I should know about? Let me double check the spelling of your name and your exact title...


If you have extra time, more complex questions can lead to evidence, anecdotes, soul-searching .... Why do you do this work? What are your concerns? Can you give me an example of how this has affected you? Really? What has been the happiest day for you? The hardest? Funniest? Most frustrating? Most controversial? What do you mean by that? Was that what you expected? I didn't understand, can you repeat that?


At the end of the interview, always say thank you, and quickly check you have everything recorded. When editing, never use part of an answer out of context.

Here's a great tutorial page on interview skills, which includes fun videos.

If you found this tutorial useful, check out other installments. Here's the full list of chapters from my audio tutorials:

Teaching Audio -- Instilling Passion

Teaching Audio part 1 -- Recording Audio

Teaching Audio part 2 -- Writing for the Ear

Teaching Audio part 3 -- Audio Editing

Teaching Audio part 4 -- Sound Effects, Using Music and Audio Libraries

Teaching Audio part 5 -- Anchor Leads, News Writing, Judgment and Features

Teaching Audio part 6 -- Voicing

Teaching Audio part 7 -- On the Scene Reporting

Teaching Audio part 8 -- Interviews

Teaching Audio part 9 -- Newscasts and Stacking the News

Teaching Audio part 10 -- Commercials

Teaching Audio part 11 -- Raising Your Game

Teaching Audio part 12 -- Podcasting Intro

Teaching Audio part 13 -- Window Dressing

Teaching Audio part 14 -- Podcast Lists

Teaching Audio part 15 -- Big Podcasts, Little City

Teaching Audio part 16 -- Listening to Podcasts and Publishing your Own

Teaching Audio, part 17 -- Joining Podcast Communities

Teaching Audio, part 18 -- Podcasting for PR

Teaching Audio, part 19 -- Promoting Your Podcast

Teaching Audio, part 20 -- Making Money in Podcasting

Teaching Audio, part 21 -- Building a Career in Audio

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