Axiom journalists break down interview process

Axiom journalists break down interview process

News team looks to help sources feel comfortable being interviewed

Journalist Deron Hamel was all set to conduct an interview for an article for one of Axiom News’ client sites.

However, once the source realized she would be quoted in the story, she declined to comment and said she would make arrangements for someone else in her organization to speak with Hamel, who says this type of reaction is not uncommon.

Sensing an opportunity to learn from this experience, it wasn’t long before the writing staff at Axiom along with executive editor Peter Pula sat down and discussed ways to help some people manage their anxieties in regards to the interview process.

In addition to reaching out to Axiom clients to get their take on the interview process, a couple of journalists offered their perspective as to what they can do to help sources feel comfortable in an interview and how to achieve the best quotes for a story.

Hamel describes his interview style as conversational, saying through conversation you’ll get better responses.

“If you act like a journalist, people aren’t going to necessarily respond well to you unless they’re extremely media savvy," Hamel says. “At the same time, one thing I should probably do more of is learn how to approach people properly.”

Hamel says the approach you take is fundamental when dealing with people who aren’t used to being interviewed.

“You let them know that they are on the record and if they don’t want you to say something, they should be telling you that they don’t want it on the record,” he says. “Being conversational puts your interviewee at ease and gives you the best quotes.”

Michelle Strutzenberger, an Axiom News journalist since 2001, says her interviewing techniques vary depending who the source is, although as the interview progresses it tends to become more of a conversation as opposed to formal questions and answers.

“As I’m talking to them I think of other questions or I’ll think of something I haven’t thought of that I want to know more about,” Strutzenberger says. “I think it relaxes them a little more. I think they’re more open.”

She says the down side to a conversational interview is that it’s easy to find yourself off topic.

In spite of a writer’s best efforts during the interview process, it’s also not uncommon for a source to become apprehensive about the way their quotes read in a story once it has been published. Sources find their words read differently than the way they thought they sounded.

Hamel says he hasn’t seen many instances where engaging an interviewee in a conversational style has caused the source to relax to the point where they aren’t thinking about how they’ll sound word-for-word in the story.

He says if this were to happen, he would change his approach and consider re-phrasing or skipping to another question.

With experience working for newspapers, on-line news agencies and news wire services, Hamel says his opinion of the interview process has changed since he began writing for Axiom in March 2007.

“I think part of it is I’d rather hear somebody’s solution to an issue than somebody gripe about it; so I’ll ask what is the best way to deal with this issue if there is a problem, how do you go about doing it and how do you engage other people to do the things you need done to achieve your goals,” he says.