My friend Bob Dickey offers advice for those who interview for a living (or want to learn how to do so!)

My friend and fellow journalist Bob Dickey, news director of OU Nightly at the University of Oklahoma and a TV news veteran of many major outlets, including CNN, was kind enough to offer some words of wisdom to one of my student’s for a project.

Typically, Bob doesn’t do something without extra effort, professional clarity and deep thought. He certainly didn’t mail this one in and I appreciate him taking the time to do so.

I hope he doesn’t mind that I repost this info for journalists out there (or would-be journalists) who are hoping to add some skills to their game.

from an email sent by Bob Dickey, May 1, 2013

1.) Prepare – know who you are talking to and what you are inquiring about.  Sounds simple but there is a big difference between talking to a cardiologist/scholar and talking to the PIO for the Heart Ctr.  If you want facts and figures and patient turnaround rates, the PIO is probably going to have that info at hand.  If you want to discuss the possibilities of future human heart repair, the PIO likely isn’t the right person.  Know the person’s background, know the subject to be discussed thoroughly.  When a reporter leads with: well tell me a little bit about heart surgery…the expert knows he/she is talking to an ill prepared idiot.

2.) Q & A – whether the metaphor is tennis match or chess game, an interview has tit for tat, back and forth, ping-pong action at its heart.  Talk…listen.  Is is not a list of questions: asked and answered.  It is a conversation.  Inquiry and information flow back and forth linking answers to questions, producing new information, new questions.
3.) Practice – very few people have innate talents for interviewing.  Most of us have to learn it and we do that by practicing the art of the interview…the art of conversation.  Not shooting the sh*# with your friends.  Talking to people you don’t know; exploring what they do know.  Following the bouncing ball down the conversational path.  Or as Professor [Ken] Fischer likes to say:  the conversational juggling act.  The interviewer is responsible for keeping the balls in the air, keeping the conversation going.  It takes practice but luckily there are endless possibilities for practice all around us everyday.
4.) Be Comfortable – Nothing puts an interview subject more ill at ease (remember most already are) than a fumbling bumbling interviewer.  In addition to the above preparation, you must also prepare yourself with the tools of your trade.  Note taking: develop techniques that will work for you.  Listening as you write takes practice, making notations of info to further explore, items to clarify or re-question.  Information that you will need to write your story.**  The belief that you will remember enough to write a thorough detail-rich story without the aid of notes is proven wrong everyday by student-journalists.  When you require more than a pen and paper, it becomes all the more important to master your tools.  Cameras, microphones, lights make most people – when they’re the center of attention – uncomfortable.  It is your job to be knowledgeable and comfortable with the mechanics and operation of the gear to the point of making it disappear in the mind of the interviewee.  You accomplish that bit of magic by practicing, practicing, practicing.  Create self-assignments, interview people, put stories together.  You have access to all the gear now.  Take advantage.  This access won’t happen again until someone hires you and they won’t hire you if you can’t demonstrate proficiency in all these skill area.

** there is a mistaken belief that if one records an interview they needn’t take notes because everything will be on tape.  1.) that doesn’t promote good follow up questioning.  More often than not one will forgot an info tidbit that appeared briefly and then veered off; they will forget it until it is too late to do anything but regret not taking notes!  2.) you literally double your work time if you need to sit down and go through a 20 minute interview a second time in order to write a story.  Do reporters go back to listen and clarify and make sure they got something right?  Yes, all the time.  That’s why Fast Forward and Rewind are your two best friends. And when you work at “60 Minutes” you will go back and re-listen – maybe several times – and you will have lots of production support and a usually generous deadline to produce your story.  But most of us write on merciless deadlines and you need to “get it” the first time and be able to quickly go to your notes for recall and verification.
Thanks Bob,  for your wisdom and friendship.
Brent Weber

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