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Tis the season to be jolly…

December 2nd, 2004

Dr Petra

.. and also for journalism students to complete interviews with people for their project work. Which makes the season somewhat less jolly for some journalism students and the people they try and interview. Usually because it’s one of the first times students have tried to get contacts, and because said contacts are busy.

Here are ten ways journalism students can use to ensure the season of goodwill remains that way.

Be aware of deadlines
Make appointments and carry out interviews well in advance. Often your deadline coincides with exams and the end of term, so you’ll be busy – but so will anyone you want to interview who works in academia.

Prepare to phone…
When you call slowly state your name, where you are studying, and ask if this is a convenient time to call. If it isn’t call back when your interviewee requests, if it is, go on to say why you’ve picked the person for interview, and what you’d like them to do for you. Many students launch in with a pitch without checking it’s okay to talk, which isn’t good if your interviewee’s in the middle of something.

Know what you want them to do
Have your questions worked out, and if you want them to comment on another story – have that ready – send in advance if possible. I’ve often heard students say things like ‘I want to know about the study showing men are more promiscuous now than ever before’. But they don’t know where the research behind the story came from. We can’t comment on things properly if we don’t know anything about them.

Email the person in advance
Provide two or three questions you want to ask. If you’re going to interview them for 15 minutes or so, then you don’t need 15 questions or more! A few questions and inviting them to add their own comments are sufficient.

Be ready to make your call
Have a quiet place to call from, enough credits on your phone, and know what you want to say – write it out in case you get nervous.

Don’t just pick famous people
Those ‘experts’ you regularly see in the papers aren’t always the best people to talk to and are usually very busy. Use your university library facilities to track down less known people in related areas who’ll probably have more time to talk.

Don’t just pick the most topical topics
This week over 30 students have called or emailed me wanting to interview me for their journalism project, talking about the infidelity gene that’s in the headlines. There are loads more interesting and just as newsworthy topics to discuss. Again, use your search facilities in the library to track down a new story on an area that interests you.

It’s okay to be nervous when you call someone
They won’t mind. Just try and be as specific as you can. If in doubt, email first and follow up with a call.

Don’t expect your interviewee to do the work
You should call them, follow up with emails, go and meet them, and send them a copy of your work after as a thank you. Don’t ask or expect them to call you, come and meet you for interview, or send you reams of papers, weblinks or other material. In all likelihood they’ll have staff or students of their own to work with, they can’t do all your work too. Some will be more helpful than others, but let them choose to do more, don’t demand it of them.

You’re not Jeremy Paxman – yet
Taking an aggressive style, or leaving messages implying if they don’t call you back they’ve abdicated their professional responsibilities, or generally being overly pushy won’t go down well. Remember, when you qualify you may want to talk to these people again, not to mention needing them on side now.

Most people are happy to be interviewed, those that aren’t should tell you quickly and you should respect that.

Until the next festive season (of interviews), I hope your projects go well, and you get the quotes you wanted.

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