Interview techniques for writing a news story

Whatever you write about, you will need to interview experts or experienced people to give your story balance and accuracy.

Before setting off to conduct an interview, journalists need to research their topic. Knowing the history of an issue or person makes it possible to ask informed, relevant questions.

After researching the topic, you should write down any relevant facts that might be useful points of reference in their story, such as major events surrounding the issue, important dates and names and possible contacts.

The journalist can also compile a list of possible interview questions, bearing in mind that yes/no questions are not as effective as asking a question about a specific event or issue. Try and make them open questions, that is, questions that will lead to answers that are longer than and more detailed than just yes or no.

Importantly, you should always concentrate on the answer, not the next question. The list of questions should only be a guideline and should not blindfold the reporter to other angles to the story or unexpected information.

Also be aware that most news stories contain conflicting information gathered from different sources. It should be stressed that the reporter’s job is simply to gather the facts surrounding an issue in a balanced, accurate and interesting way.

It is likely that a reporter will need to speak to at least one other source to gather a balanced view of the issue.

Exercise

Split students into pairs. Try to pair pupils who normally do not spend a great deal of time together. 

Ensure each student has a pen and something to write on. Give each pair somewhere private to sit. 

Students will now take turns interviewing and being interviewed. Each interview must be completed in a set period of time, for example, five minutes.

The teacher will set the topic for both interview sessions. Possible topics include student’s individual accounts of universal events, such as a sports carnival, or periods in their lives, such as their first memories.

After both students have completed their interviews they must compile their information into a short news story. Teachers need only allocate 10 minutes for this as the information writers will be drawing upon is very limited.

Teachers should either call on students to read out their work for discussion or collect it to check on the structure.

Quotes

Quotations are usually the part of the story that stays with the reader the longest. “Strong” or newsworthy quotes are often humorous, unexpected or particularly well said. Direct quotes are the words that someone has actually said. A journalist must never change direct quotes. They are a verbatim repeat of a source’s words. 

Indirect quotes are those where the exact words have not been used, but the meaning has been retained. Indirect quotes may also be used but the journalist must not change the speaker’s original meaning in any way. 

Exercise

Select an article from The Newcastle Herald. Discuss the difference between direct quotes and indirect quotes. 

Using a highlighter, have students highlight the quotes that the journalist has used. Next to the quote record the word ‘direct’ or ‘ indirect’ to indicate the type of quote used.

INTERVIEW: To ensure your story has balance and authority, you'll need to speak to people who are either experts in your topic area or someone directly involved.

INTERVIEW: To ensure your story has balance and authority, you'll need to speak to people who are either experts in your topic area or someone directly involved.

INTERVIEW: To ensure your story has balance and authority, you'll need to speak to people who are either experts in your topic area or someone directly involved.

INTERVIEW: To ensure your story has balance and authority, you'll need to speak to people who are either experts in your topic area or someone directly involved.