Saturday, June 04, 2011

Tom Zind shares his grab bag of thoughts on interviewing and writing

  • Use the active, not passive, voice. By using an active voice you avoid using a “backing in” approach to sentence construction.
  • Use anonymous sources sparingly: Sometimes you must. Usually a judgment call where you weigh benefits of full attribution vs. risks of excluding important information that can’t be gained otherwise.
  • Quote to amplify: Strong quotes don’t parrot. They amplify, explain, make a point in a different way, give a glimpse of a source’s personality, views, etc., that help humanize a story.
  • Pursue sources: Don’t write off any possibilities when it comes to getting an interview with a source. Some may seem a stretch, but it’s always good try make the attempt. Sometimes persistence pays off.
  • Offer context/background: No story exists in a vacuum. Weaving in information that explains the “backstory” – the history of an issue, why it’s important, its nuances – is a good way of fleshing out a complete story that your reporting.
  • Weigh benefits/drawbacks of editorializing/offering commentary: Some stories can benefit from the writer offering perspective that goes beyond what sources are saying. That may seem to violate the tenet of objective reporting, but pure objectivity is a bit mythical.
  • Put yourself in the reader’s shoes: We always have to write with the reader in mind, but it’s more essential than ever today. A business publication audience’s needs and knowledge level are far different from that of a consumer publication readership. Writing and reporting must reflect that.
  • Avoid group phone interviews: Sometimes they can’t be avoided. But they pose challenges with attribution, voice clarity, cross-talk, etc., complicating understanding and good note-taking.
  • Press for interviews, not written responses: Written responses to written questions are in vogue. They protect both sides from misquotes, and allow the PR folks to be more involved. Better to press for direct interviews and offer outlines.
  • Get sources comfortable: Display your knowledge of the subject matter, clearly lay out what you’re looking for and explain why you’re tapping them. By making them feel their insight and expertise is valuable, they’re more likely to open up.

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