9.21 Planning Interviews

Once the interview roster is ready, you can determine the willingness and availability of the sources. Some potential interviewees may be unavailable – out of town or tied up with other responsibilities. Others may be unwilling to be interviewed. Some may have research results that they do not wish to make public yet. Others may prefer to send you a copy of their testimony before Congress and save the time an interview would take. Some specialists who are unavailable will suggest others as substitutes. However, a good percentage of people on a well-constructed source list should be available.

Careful planning of interviews involves a number of steps and almost innumerable considerations.

Interviewee’s conditions: In some cases, the interviewee stipulates some conditions for the interview which can include:

  • Amount of time they will talk with you

  • Interview method (face-to-face, telephone conversation or online)

  • Permission (or not) to record the conversation

  • Request that another person be present (their lawyer or agent).

  • Request that they review the material before you may publish or use it

  • The “contract” for the way the information will be used in the message (see more about this below)

Review your own material: Looking over material gathered earlier in the information process will help you devise a strategy for using the interview to fill in questions, corroborate information, or to discover new angles to take.

  • What is disputed? Can inconsistencies be explained or resolved? What is the significance of the disputed facts?

  • What unexplored aspects of the subject should be developed? What is ”new” that should be reflected in my questions?

  • What questions are appropriate to each interviewee?

  • What sensitivities and special perspectives should I be aware of in asking questions of each interviewee?

  • What information in my files may need updating or confirming?

  • What human-interest information can be elicited from the interviewee?

Consider interviewee “inhibitors:” Interview preparation also involves getting ready for the social and psychological aspects of the interview. Before you draft your questions, consider the situation of the interviewee. People may have competing demands for their time. They may have painful memories of the topic you want to explore with them. They may not trust your motives in seeking the interview. This might make some interviewees unwilling to share information.

Other factors may affect the interviewee’s ability to share accurate information (as opposed to their willingness to do so). The person’s memory may have faded, they may not accurately recall the sequence of events, they may be confused by your questions. All of these inhibitors affect the way you approach your subject and the types of questions you ask.