Contribution Guidelines : Interview Guidelines
Before You Begin
Contacting The Interviewee
Choosing A Format
How To Handle Names
How To Title Your Article
BEFORE YOU BEGIN
If you decide to contribute an interview, we're available to assist you with all
aspects of the interview process, from selection to contact, preparation, and publication.
Please contact us before setting up your interview. 360MainStreet.com has a policy
of interviewing the same personality no more than once every two months, so please
check to determine if it's time for a new one.
Occasionally more than one contributor wants to interview the same personality.
In the interest of fairness to everyone, those requests are treated on a first-come,
first-served basis. If you do not check with the senior interview editor before
setting up an interview, there is the possibility that it will be denied publication,
if the personality has already been assigned to another contributor.
CONTACTING THE INTERVIEWEE
You can either contact the personality yourself or ask us to help you set up the
interview, which will include acquiring promotional materials, an important part
of the preparation process. Please keep the senior interview editor informed about
your progress at all times--including when you expect the interview to take place,
and when you anticipate submitting the piece to 360MainStreet.com.
Email or call the appropriate person to ask for an interview; usually they will
get back to you relatively quickly with a date and time.
Once you've set up the interview, please ask for three or four images of the
personality or subject matter (ideally a mix of promotional and/or
performance photos) and forward them to the senior interview editor, along with
all necessary credit information for photographers and/or sources. Links to existing
.jpg images on the web are preferable, but you may also email images directly if
There are three ways to handle the interview:
- In person. Try to talk with the personality one-on-one. Interviews
in person are always better, because the interviewee generally feels more relaxed
and open in this setting. Get together over food or drinks in a casual setting.
- By telephone. If geography or scheduling prohibits meeting in person,
use the telephone instead. Let the interviewee know in advance how long you would
like to talk.
- By email. You should only use email to conduct an interview as
a last resort, typically only at the specific request of the interviewee. While
email may be tempting because of the ease of transcription, steer clear unless you
have no other choice. It's very hard to predict how forthcoming an interviewee will
be--and the results can often be determined by such irrelevant parameters as how
well they can type, or when they have computer access. Another problem with the
email interview is that answers don't lead to new questions unless you're assured
of multiple rounds of Q&A.
Recording Devices for In Person or Phone Interviews: If you are
doing interviews in person or by phone you will require some kind of recording device
to record the conversation. A variety of devices can be used, but you will need
an input that will allow you to connect a microphone for in person interviews, or
a phone hookup (widely available in audio/video stores) for recording telephone
calls. In many places it's illegal to record phone conversations without consent,
so make sure you clear that up front. If you have any questions about the various
technologies discussed here, contact the senior interview editor.
- First and foremost, do your research in advance. Interviewees are
more prone to open up if they feel that you know them and their work. Search the
Internet for historical information, as well as the 360MainStreet.com site for any
articles already published. If you have access to a library search service such
as Lexis/Nexus, do a search and get your hands on some original articles. Because
you should try to present as much new information as possible in your interview,
you need to know what's already been covered.
- Introduce yourself to the artist up front. Tell them a bit about
your interests and describe 360MainStreet.com. This will give them a better idea
about their audience during the subsequent conversation. Be relaxed and bring as
much personality as possible to bear in the interview situation, but be yourself.
This approach will encourage the artist to do the same.
- Avoid yes or no questions. Instead, try to make your questions
as open-ended as possible without sounding ignorant.
- Encourage controversy. Try to encourage the interviewee to speak
freely about whatever topic they desire. Often unanticipated subjects or issues
will come up during an interview and end up being the best part of the interview.
- Always be prepared for a withdrawn subject. Have a list of fallback
questions ready in advance, so you won't be caught with your pants down. If you
find someone is not talkative, try to change the subject until you find something
that piques their interest.
- Listen to the interviewee. Perhaps the most important part of a
good interview is simply listening to your subject. The best question is often your
followup question asking them to expand upon a comment they have made. You'll miss
these opportunities if you're not paying careful attention. It's often best to allow
the subject to determine the course of the interview, since that assures their continuing
involvement and interest.
- Take your time with the transcription process after an interview.
Double check everything that you submit for accuracy. Misquoting a subject can be
the kiss of death in journalism.
- Trim the interview down before publication. Remove off-topic tangents,
lengthy lists, and irrelevant personal interactions between the writer and the interviewee.
Remember that people speak in ways that don't necessarily translate well into print--pauses,
fragmented speech while they formulate ideas, run-on sentences, etc. It is perfectly
acceptable to rework the interviewee's words into more concise and cogent shape,
often just by employing the right punctuation, while striving to retain his/her
personal voice. If the interviewee is highly critical of specific individuals and
groups in a way that he'll likely regret in the future, try to be sensitive to this
and omit the gory details. Whenever you delete anything from an interview, replace
the text with an ellipsis (...).
- Use brackets where appropriate. If the interviewee speaks about
individuals using only first names, add their last name in brackets so the reader
knows who's being discussed. For example: "John [Doe] painted best with acrylic."
Don't be afraid to use brackets as often as necessary to clarify statements or insert
words left out by the interviewee.
- Punctuation: If the interviewee describes a conversation, use double
quote marks to enclose that material in Q&A format, or single quote marks if
you're writing it up as a narrative. Choose your punctuation carefully. Don't be
afraid to use exclamation marks or italics for particularly bold or emotional
statements, but never use ALL CAPITALS or bold. If you choose to
use exclamation marks or italics, limit their use for maximum impact.
- Sentences transcribed with endless strings of commas tend to be difficult to read
and reflect poorly on the communication skills of the subject, so break them up
into bite-sized pieces wherever possible. Two or three incomplete sentences are
always better than a very long string of phrases.
CHOOSING A FORMAT
You have two choices for formatting when you write up an interview. Choose what
works for you.
1. Q&A Format
- This approach is obviously easier because you don't have to do as much writing.
However, it's sometimes not as effective as a well-written feature story, because
you don't always get stand-alone responses from an interviewee. It can also be difficult
to frame responses within an accessible context. While preserving authenticity,
the Q&A format tends to have low information density.
- The Q&A format is most useful when you're talking with an articulate person
who feels free about expressing experience and opinions. If the interviewee gives
short answers, babbles endlessly about minutiae, or otherwise presents himself as
a dull person, you should strongly consider picking the very best quotes and writing
in narrative or artist profile format.
- Please use the following formatting convention, specifically
bolding the Q&A tags and placing a paragraph break before each one.
- 360 Main Street: What was your first experience with expresso?
- Interviewee: I ran in circles looking for my cup.
- Try to organize the interview logically, especially if it transpired
in a haphazard fashion. If the conversation had a built-in logical flow, you don't
need to re-organize. Otherwise, don't be afraid to move things around to make it
a smoother read. Just be sure not to change the meaning. When in doubt, the chronological
approach is always solid.
- Compose a brief paragraph or two as introduction when putting together
a Q&A interview. Briefly summarize the life and accomplishments of the artist;
bear in mind any specific interview responses which may require explanation. Try
to approach the material in a way which is accessible to all readers, but still
holds the interest of those readers who already know something about the subject.
2. Narrative Format
- Organize quotes around a theme. You're building a structure with
your words that will serve as a foundation to frame the interviewee's words in the
best light. Try to incorporate as much of the interview text as possible without
ruining the flow of the piece. If the interview transcript makes up less than 30%
of the article text, then the piece should be submitted using the article category
Profile; otherwise submit it as an Interview.
- You may find it useful to pick out the best quotes from your transcript and arrange
them on the page before starting the writing process: this approach will allow the
raw material to organize itself, and then you can just go about connecting the dots.
When you get done with the first draft, read everything through carefully to make
sure it flows evenly. Reading aloud can also be a useful approach during this process.
- It's important that your lead sentence reflect something unique to the interviewee,
as opposed to a general statement which will cause the reader to yawn and move on.
- Strike a balance between factual information, descriptions of the interviewee's
works, and the lifestyle or opinions of the interviewee. For example, most
people would like to hear about an artist's music itself, but they also are curious
about unique events in the artist's life, as well as the artist's opinions on interesting
topics. Mix things up as much as possible without losing coherence. Try to come
up with clever linking phrases that allow natural transitions between subjects,
or play around surfing the interface between two topics.
- Strike a balance between the past, present, and future of the subject.
The past history of a person's life can give great insight into the work's that
they produce right now, but most readers are particularly curious about what lies
ahead. Try to present information about upcoming projects, cds in preparation, gallery
exhibitions, planned tours, etc. The fresher the material, the better.
- Close out the interview with something interesting. After the lead,
your closer is the second most important part of the story. Usually by this point
the reader feels somewhat comfortable with the life and opinions of the subject,
so throw out a curve ball: something particularly quirky or distinctive which sets
the subject apart. It's usually safe to close with a quote, but don't be afraid
to embellish a bit, especially if the quote is a bit cryptic.
3. Introductory Paragraphs
- Whether using the Narrative or Q&A style for your interview, write one or two
brief introductory paragraphs to set context and summarize the life and accomplishments
of the artist.
- Try to approach the material in a way which is accessible to all readers, but still
holds the interest of those already familiar, to some extent, with the subject.
- Avoid cliched introductory phrases like "I caught up with," "360MainStreet.com contributor
XX spoke with," or "I met with XX." This information adds little value and, with
your name hotlinked to your Contributor Profile in the article's header, there's
no need for further personal stamping.
Please include a representational cross-section of the interviewee's recorded works
in the form of a selected works at the end of the piece. It's an important service
for curious readers who want to learn more about the interviewee's work. Your own
experience is crucial in guiding the selection process. You may also wish to confer
with the interviewee and/or 360MainStreet.com's interview editors for advice and
suggestions as well.
When you submit an interview, please offer a suggestion for the pull quote that
will appear in larger text inside the published article. Aim for a short and punchy
excerpt that will pique readers' attention and help improve the general interest
in your piece.
HOW TO HANDLE NAMES
Your first reference to the subject should include both first and last names. After
that, you can use the subject's full name or last name only. Do not use his or her
first name. Last names give you a more objective standing with the interviewee;
first names tend to sound too chummy and isolate the reader. If other individuals
come up on a first name basis, add their last names [in brackets].
HOW TO TITLE YOUR ARTICLE
Create a short and punchy title that will pull the reader in. The format should
always be Interview: Title. For example:
John Doe: From Zero to Hero
We strive to publish in as timely a fashion as possible, but in order to provide
maximum exposure we limit the number of interviews/profiles published each week.
Upon submission your article could be published as soon as the following week, but
it might also be scheduled up to a few weeks later. the senior interview editor
will always contact you once the piece has been prepared for publication, with a
link to the finished article and the scheduled publication date. Interviews and
Profiles are typically scheduled on a first-come, first-served basis, unless there
is a compelling reason to do otherwise. Please contact the senior interview editor
if you have any questions about this process.
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