Chip Scanlan: 4 Lessons in Conducting an Interview

By Courtney Herrig

The course on NewsU, Reporting, by instructor Chip Scanlan was very useful because no one ever teaches the journalist how to conduct an interview. I actually took a different course, entitled, 5 Steps to Multimedia, but the course had no interactive features and was not structured logically. However, this course was engaging and informative because the lesson used audio and video to teach the lesson. The course is presented with animation and audio for the interview and video footage of the instructor. The lesson was very cleaver because the instructor calls you one a video phone while you are in an interview and gives you hints and advice to get a better response from the interviewee.

4 Lessons to Reporting
Lesson 1: Always come prepared with questions listed in a notebook. The questions should be audience centered, i.e. ask questions that the reader would ask. I interpret this rule to mean that my line of question should follow my initial thoughts when I was first presented this topic and interview – before I did my research. In my opinion, this is the best way to place myself in the shoes of the reader.

The instructer qoutes John Brody, author of The Craft of Interviewing, “The interview is like a chess player, he says, never moving a piece or asking a question without a greater purpose.” I like this perspective because it demands that the reporter think about the implications of each question and answer. This is not an easy feat, but with time and practice this could be a craft.

Lesson 2: The instructor is quick to point out that interviewing is not an art or science – it is somewhere in between. The reporter cannot aways predict what people say, because humans are unpredictable beings. He says that reporters often ask questions that suppress rather than produce information. Scanlan explains that the most productive interviews are conversations. This rule is closely related to the first rule, if the reporter is not responding to what is said by the interviewee but simply going down the list of questions they are not having a conversation. This can be very off putting and could create an empty story depending the topic.

Lesson 3: Listen with the heart as well as the head. Scanlan says the tape recorder taught him his hardest lesson. I could empathize with this part of the lesson. This exactly how I felt time I listened to my first interview that I had recorded on my new iPod digital recorder. It was an embarrassment. I had been told by my closest friend that I wasn’t the best listener, but I had a difficult time stepping out of my perspective every time I tried to improve my listening skills. The voice recorder put this personal flaw right in my face . . . or rather my ears. Even though I was hearing and listening to what the interviewee had to say, I was not listening with my heart. This is perhaps the hardest lesson of this course. Lesson 2 and 3 are a balancing act; the interviewer needs to talk less, but still keep a conversational environment to the interview.

Lesson 4: No such thing as “off the record”. Scalan discusses that if the interviewee uses this term, explain that nothing is off the record. The term “not for attribution” may be what they mean. He explains that “not for attribution” means the sources information can be used in the story but will not be referenced back to the interviewee.


4 Responses to “Chip Scanlan: 4 Lessons in Conducting an Interview”

  1. Tips from The Poynter Institute about interviewing | In Cadet Boots Says:

    […] Courtney Herrig, a student at University of South Florida St. Petersburg, complained in a 2007 blog post. For most journalists the only way to learn is on the job, mostly through painful trial and […]

  2. Improving the interview | Crimson links, tips and miscellany Says:

    […] Courtney Herrig, a student at University of South Florida St. Petersburg, complained in a 2007 blog post. For most journalists the only way to learn is on the job, mostly through painful trial and […]

  3. clarehands Says:

    Reblogged this on clarehands and commented:
    “No. Such. Thing. As. Off. The. Record.”

  4. Raymundo Romesburg Says:

    Very nice, thank you!

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