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How to make an online interview

 9:46 am on Feb 27, 2004 (gmt 0)

Hello everyone,

We are running a fairly small niche site, so to our surprise we were recently approached by a big publisher who wants us to make an interview with one of their authors, who happens to be a pulitzer price winner. They also send us a copy of his newest book. So we assume, the interview will be most probably about his new book.

This is obviously a very good chance for us to get some publicity, however we are some geeks in our niche who run our site as a hobby and not journalists.

Any tips on what kind of questions would be intresting, things that are concidered a NO NO, or how to do an online interview in general would be appreciated.

cheers and thanks in advance,



 6:38 pm on Feb 27, 2004 (gmt 0)

You could always hire a freelance writer to review the book and develop a list of questions for you, or to do conduct and write the entire interview for you.


 8:57 am on Mar 2, 2004 (gmt 0)

Hello ccdan, thanks for your comment, i keep that in mind.

Any other suggestions?



 3:21 pm on Mar 2, 2004 (gmt 0)

Good interviewers usually try to avoid too many standard or obvious questions about the author and instead try to bring out something new. If your site is a tech site, for example, consider questions that expand on tech-related issues in the book and result in the author adding more perspective.

It goes without saying that a good interviewer will read the book, or at least big chunks of it. As you are reading, mark interesting topics and possible questions with sticky notes. You'll probably end up with far more topics than you'll be able to cover in an interview. Nevertheless, it's good to be prepared - while good interviewees will take a good question and run with it, I've occasionally heard an interview where the answers were monosyllabic. (E.g., "Do you think the Internet will change education in the future?"; "Yes." <followed by silence> ;)) Be prepared with extra questions to allow for this possibility, or to allow you to switch topics if one area of questioning isn't going well. (Assuming this is a live interview.)

Look for "pullout quotes" - a phrase or short sentence that would make a good head or subhead; one or two of these will be handy if you publish the interview. A good interviewee will be prepared with some of these quotable lines.

Gear your questions to your audience. If most of your audience hasn't read the book, it's fine to ask questions that let the author talk about his/her key points, findings, etc., as reported in the book. If the book has already been widely read, though, you may want to delve more into topics beyond the book content.

Depending on how you will use the interview content (live webcast, transcript, article, etc.), you might also try to get an unusual or contrasting fact or quote. These are good for opening or closing an article. (When I published a technology magazine, I was interviewed fairly often by general publications. Reporters/writers almost always asked me, "What's the weirdest application you've seen for this technology?" - they were looking for a hook that might make their article a bit more readable.)

Good luck, Viggen!


 4:39 pm on Mar 2, 2004 (gmt 0)

Avoid "leading questions", that is, questions that are properly responded to with 1 word, questions that contain the implied answer.

Listen to interviewers on National Public Radio for awhile. You'll get the idea. One of my favorties is Terry Gross of "Fresh Air" fame. If you emulate her someone will offer you a job ;-)


 4:43 pm on Mar 2, 2004 (gmt 0)

Avoid yes/no questions - that will go a long way to preventing monosyllabic responses. If you need to draw them out a little, drop a "What else?" or "Why do you think X is the case?"

Do your homework. Make sure the publisher has sent you fact sheets/ press kit. The author doesn't want to answer basic questions like "so where to do you live?" or "what was the first book you published?" That's info you can usually glean from a good fact sheet. The author will also be more apt to get into the interview, if he/she isn't being asked the same nuts and bolts questions that they've probably gotten before.

Prepare questions, but also be ready to improvise and "leave the list". You want to make sure you get everything answered that you want to ask, but if the author goes off somewhere, follow along, come up with questions on the fly and see where it goes. You can get some great material that way.

Send followups as needed. As you prepare the actual content, if you come up with other questions, clarifications, etc., send the author a list of them.

Good luck mate!


 7:52 am on Mar 3, 2004 (gmt 0)

I thought you guys made many good points on the rule of journalism. I would like to add some comment on the issue of interactivity. I think the interview article on the website should "connect" to the people.

In my point of view, I prefer to make an interactive content on the website...for example, I have to interview a CEO of IBM.

I may ask for permission to do the video recording his/her room (To understand his/her attitude, his/her working environment is an important thing).

I may ask that CEO to allow me to publish his/her book in the form of e-book. (I thought CEO of IBM wrote a text named "why the elephant can't dance?". I am not quite sure)

I will put the related article at the end of the article in order to let the reader to do more research by themself.

Any more suggestion?


 9:56 am on Mar 3, 2004 (gmt 0)

Good points on not asking 'closed' questions - ie those that can elicit 'yes' or 'no'. I once conducted an interview with an English football manager who managed to trash my interview into about 200 words by being monosyllabic. Also you can use 'reverse' quotes. It's not on to make quotes up, but you can say, 'So is it fair to say "my book has changed the course of the modern novel"' (or whatever), eliciting a yes (ideally!) and then say 'May I use that?' and run that as a quote. Killer quotes make pieces. Stop the interviewee drying up by talking around the subject (their interests, be humorous) and warming them up before you get to the tricky stuff. And don't ask them that question about the affair or alcohol abuse till the end of the interview ... cos that will end the interview.


 2:43 pm on Mar 3, 2004 (gmt 0)

rogerd writes:
...I've occasionally heard an interview where the answers were monosyllabic. (E.g., "Do you think the Internet will change education in the future?"; "Yes." <followed by silence> ;)) Be prepared with extra questions to allow for this possibility...

In a lot of cases, that can be avoided simply by phrasing the question differently.

In your example, change the question to "How do you think the Internet will change education in the future?"

If the guy answers "yes" to that one, find a new interviewee. ;-)


 2:56 pm on Mar 3, 2004 (gmt 0)

find a new interviewee

Quite true, ccDan. Pity the poor live radio host expecting to fill 50 minutes with Q & A with a nonresponsive subject. At least once, I've heard an NPR host cut short an interview and go to "open phones" after an unsuccessful struggle to get a guest to communicate.


 6:00 pm on Mar 3, 2004 (gmt 0)

Pity the poor live radio host expecting to fill 50 minutes with Q & A with a nonresponsive subject.

This is why it is the wise host who does a pre-interview before committing to a live interview. Not only will you learn if this person can say more than yes or no, you will start to get a feel for where to take the interview.

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