For a journalist, the process of interviewing a subject one of the most exciting and fascinating aspects of the job. A true skill, your interviewing style comes with lots of practice, but a few wise words from seasoned fashion journalists never hurt.
This week, Andrew Tucker, a fashion journalist, author, consultant and the Course Director of MA Fashion Journalism at the London College of Fashion.
As well as being a regular contributor for The Gentlewoman and Fantastic Man, Andrew has worked closely with the British Fashion Council as a talent scout. Read on for his top tips to make the most of your interviews.
1. Make sure you’ve done your research. There’s nothing more humiliating than being told by your interviewee that you don’t know what you’re talking about. Also, if you demonstrate an intimate knowledge of their work or career, then you will impress your subject and get better responses to your questions.
2. If you’re interviewing a member of the public who isn’t as comfortable with the interview process, try and put them at ease before launching into your questions. Although you may be using a recording device, you may find it easier to take notes at it’s less intrusive.
3. Always take notes, even if you’re recording the conversation — it’s a brilliant way to buy time and allow you to think on your feet. Simply by looking down at your notebook and writing allows you vital second to formulate new questions. Plus, when you come to write it up, it will give you a sense of what was said at what point in the conversation, saving you time in transcribing.
4. Manage the interview carefully. Think about how much time you have and what you need to find out in this window. Don’t be afraid to let the conversation go off topic — sometimes the best nuggets of information comes when you let your subject talk on a subject that doesn't normally come up in an interview.
Whatever happens, don’t behave like an automaton, by moving rigidly from question to question. Try and make the interview seem as close to a conversation between friends, where you lead the questions but do less talking. On the flip side, don’t go off on too much of a tangent — and discover that the interview is suddenly over — and you haven’t asked the most important questions.
5. If you’re interviewing over the phone, smile into the receiver. It may sound strange, but smiling puts a different inflection in your voice which your interviewee will pick up on.
6. If you need to conduct a series of interviews in the same field, or get a number of quotes on a specific topic from affiliated professionals, always ask your interviewee if there’s anyone that they’d recommend you speak to. You can get some great contacts this way as it’s much easier to get in contact with someone via a personal recommendation, rather than going via a press office.
7. When winding up the interview, leave your channels as open as possible. Make sure that you get a business card and a guarantee that you can contact your subject to check facts or details when you’ve finished writing. Even if you don’t really need to contact them again, make sure you could if you wanted to, as they may come in handy in the future.
8. When interviewing, the best case scenario is face to face, then on the phone, and lastly over email. If this is your only option, ensure you’re professional. Check your email for grammatical errors and when devising questions, try and keep them focussed on what you want to achieve to demonstrate that you know a lot about the subject. By asking interesting questions, you’ll get interesting answers. NEVER ask closed questions that require a yes or no answer as you may just get that.
9. Be confident but humble, be charming but not overbearing, and if it’s a disaster, walk away from the situation politely and inform whoever commissioned you immediately.
10. “Off the record”: Occasionally a subject will say this in reference to something controversial or damaging. In these instances, you DO have the right to use this information and credit it to your subject providing you retain the transcript. Both the journalist and subject must need to agree that particular information will be “off the record” for it to be upheld.
Most journalists will refer to something like this as “a source close to X said…” rather than directly naming the source or they may seek out another source who will corroborate the information. Bear in mind, if you name a source who has expressly requested anonymity, your reputation as a journalist can risk being damaged as you will be perceived untrustworthy.
11. Observe everything — a good interview will cover a lot of ground, but it isn’t just about what the subject has to say. What are they wearing? What does their office/ workspace/ home look like? What kind of mood are they in that day? What food do they order? Every tiny detail will allow you to build a better picture of your subject.