Building trust, one interview at a time

September 4, 2018 11:00

Practicing transparency. Explaining the journalistic process. Actively engaging audiences. Newsrooms have been making concerted efforts to demonstrate credibility and rebuild trust with news audiences.

Reporters in the field have an opportunity to build trust every day, with every story, one person at a time.

Interviews:  They add depth and humanity to stories, amplify voices that may not otherwise be heard and are a key way reporters connect with members of the community. Practicing interviewing skills can not only make for better, more impactful stories but also build trust with important community voices.

Here are some key interviewing skills to help build trust.

Landing the Interview
Some people you want to interview may have gatekeepers: Assistants, schedulers, PIOs, managers, etc. Get to know and these gatekeepers and always be polite and respectful. If they know, respect and trust you, you’re more likely to get through to the source.

Similarly, get to know your community. Spend time at the public library, community center, coffee shop.  If you get to know people in your community organically, you’ll get more story leads, interview connections, and trust.

Next, understand why people may be reluctant to talk to you as a reporter and develop some strategies to address the various reasons.

Remember that people generally don’t factor talking to reporters into their day (unless they’re PIOs or PR), so your interview request is inherently an intrusion. Be realistic about the time commitment and do what you can to be cognizant of how you fit into someone’s day. Will a phone call do in a pinch? Can you meet somewhere convenient for your source?

Others may have had even just one bad experience with a reporter in the past. Maybe something was misquoted, misunderstood or just missed. And, of course, you may encounter those who simply don’t want to talk to an “enemy of the people.” In these cases, remind sources that they’ve never talked to you. Ask for a chance to get it right. Remind sources that their perspective is valuable and unique and people in the community will be more informed for hearing it.

Preparing for the Interview
Once your source has agreed to talk to you further, clearly communicate and agree on the expectations for the interview. Will it be on camera? Live? If the interview will be “off the record” or “on background,” agree with your source on what those terms mean before the interview starts.

During the Interview
Once the interview has started, it’s all about active listening. Listen not just to get to your next question, but to really understand. Restate to confirm your understanding. Taking the time to write notes can be another way to show you are taking the time to get it right.

Before ending interviews, always ask interviewees to spell their names, even if you think you know. Getting someone’s name wrong is a quick way to lose trust. Ask sources if you can contact them if you have more questions, but also provide your contact information, too.

After an Interview
Finally, the three most important trust-building steps following an interview are to say thank you, get it right and follow up. Send an email or call the day after an interview or once the story is posted. If you find you’re not sure of something or have a follow up question, take the time to ask. Sources will be glad you took an extra step to get it right. Then, follow up regularly, not just when you are in need of an interview.
For more interviewing skills, including which room to avoid when interviewing a source at home, a camera timecode time saver and more, watch the “Talking to Strangers” webinar, available in the member portal.


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