By Anna McConnell, Meredith Agrimedia
Interviewing sources is always a high-stakes situation. Whether you get the chattiest grower in the U.S. or the farmer who would rather you not come out and poke around his/her operation, your demeanor as a journalist and questions have to be top notch—at least that’s what I learned from the five rockstar journalists running the Advanced Interviewing session at AMS.
Here are 10 takeaways that inspired me from the panel’s presentation and discussion:
- Interview your subject away from other people. If you can get a farmer in the cab of his/her combine, that’s ideal. People pour their hearts out in their safe places away from the neighbors that came over to see the interview happen, Max Armstrong says.
- Ease into the interview. Establish a casual, comfortable environment with easy questions and conversation first. Let them chat about their new piece of equipment, their kids, or the types of crops they grow to start off.
- Avoid double questions at all costs. Giving the interviewee the opportunity to only answer one of the two questions you’ve combined is a bad idea, Holly Spangler says.
- LISTEN. According to Max Armstrong, you can miss the best comment of the entire interview when you’re thinking of your next question instead of listening to the subject answer the last one.
- Think about how this story will differ from others like it. Jamie Cole does this partly by asking the question, “What do you do that your neighbor doesn’t?”
- Talk about feelings. If you’ve got a stiff interviewee, Martha Mintz says to make even more of an effort to ask questions like, “How did XYZ make you feel? How did that make your spouse feel? What did that day feel like?”
- Embrace silence. Pam Smith makes a conscious effort to not babble, but to instead find answers within an interview’s quiet moments.
- Ask “How did you get here?” This can take you deep in a conversation about the decisions they’ve made over the years, triumphs and regrets, and who has made a dramatic impact on their life.
- Don’t limit yourself to only ag-related questions. Jamie Cole makes an effort to ask about what farmers read, watch, and listen to. He also makes a point to ask about what they do when they’re not farming, which sometimes gives his stories an edge.
- Be respectful of their time. Farmers and ranchers are busy. Make an effort to ask how much time they’ll have to complete the interview and prepare to be flexible. Pam Smith is always willing to ride along or help out if that’s what locks in her interview time.