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Feb 24 / Joel Cordes

Internship Insider: Interview pros like a pro

Marisol Gonzalez interviews Kyle Hix at Super Bowl media day.

Marisol Gonzalez interviews Kyle Hix at Super Bowl media day.

Interviewing a professional athlete or coach can be a big help for you as a sports writer, and could even be a dream come true for the sports fan in you.

As we’ve mentioned before though, it’s also an enormous privilege and responsibility.

I began interviewing pro players and coaches nearly 10 years ago, but with no experience or journalism background whatsoever. A couple hundred interviews later, here’s what I’ve learned from my mistakes, successes and observing others.

1. Prepare to fail (with humor and grace).

A reporter buddy once pissed off Pat Riley, then coaching the Miami Heat, during a postgame press conference. He had asked a perfectly reasonable question, but as we stood outside the locker room, Riley gave the stare of death, called this guy an idiot (in a few more words) and passed him up for the next reporter. My friend laughed if off, waited his turn, and came right back to ask a different question a minute later. Riley answered it without hesitation.

2. You’re not the only reporter ever.

No matter the question, chances are your athlete or coach has already been asked it 700 times before. Don’t get cutesy, but do look for interesting angles. Don’t be offended if the first response to your question is a sigh.

3. Listen before you talk.

If interviewing among a group of reporters, note all questions and answers. There’s nothing more annoying to coaches, players and other reporters than asking a question just covered minutes (or seconds) ago. Pay attention.

4. Play by the rules.

Don’t interrupt. Don’t ask more than two questions in a row. Wait your turn.

But then TAKE your turn. Once it’s obvious an answer is finished, jump in right away. When in a group, you also don’t need to ask the question in order to use the answer. Cite the answer only, but recognize that other reporters will be using your question/answers too.

5. Respect your job. Respect their job.

You don’t ever have to coddle people, but don’t be annoying either.

If somebody doesn’t want to answer something, rephrase the question once. If that doesn’t work. Move on.

If they don’t want to talk at the moment, ask to set something up for later: 10 minutes later, after the game, next time you stop by, etc.  You’ll be surprised how often people honor their commitments, even if you have to remind them.

Being patient and building a working relationship over time is far more valuable than destroying your credibility by overpursuing one stupid question at the cost of all else.

See Part II next week. Thanks to B/R Blog reader and Bleacher Report writer Ken Kraetzer for inspiring this list!

*Remember that users are prohibited from seeking out interviews on their own if using B/R’s name/platform as leverage. All “official” interview opportunities using the B/R name should come directly from B/R staff.

Joel C. Cordes is Bleacher Report’s Sportswriting Internship Program Feedback Editor. Along with fellow editor Greg Pearl, he develops B/R interns by providing feedback and mentoring, the highlights of which are shared with the B/R Blog.

  • Ken Kraetzer

    Joel: Thank you for your kind recognition. Years ago when still in college I had the chance to interview “Catfish” Hunter when he was in his heyday with the Yankees. I wrote up questions in advance, and asked him for an interview as he came off the field from practice. He said sure, but asked for a few minutes to change his uniform. I waited around and ten minutes later there was Catfish Hunter on the bench waiting to talk to me.

    Have found that keeping a spiral notebook for game notes is helpful. For football I write in each play down, distance and result. For basketball I write down each score and circle the important ones, this helps define trends. Throughout I jot down questions to possibly ask later. When real organized, I’ll write a question list on one piece of paper before going to the interview area. This helps to be ready when it is your turn to ask the coach or players questions.

    Sometimes postgames are done in the hallway, especially for visiting team players, so you need to have key notes handy or just ready to go. Found it very helpful to keep the game’s stat page open on my Blackberry, sometimes the final paper stats are not yet available. There are always a couple of points in the statisitics to ask about and avoids just askign about generalities.

    Key on questions is to keep postive. Talking to teams after a loss is often a challenge. Sometimes you have to ask a player about a fumble or a shot they missed. Just ask about the play and let the player explain what happened.

    As you said, interviewing is about relationship building. A player or coach who has seen you before, perhaps talked to you after a practice, is much more likely to take your questions after a game.

    Increasingly post game press conferences are being broadcast. At West Point they are broadcast out into the stadium and on closed circuit to military bases. At Iona they videotape and place within minutes on to their athletics website. So participation in these events reflects on your own brand and relationship with the school and team.

    Sometimes the athletic departments will send a young player to the post game press conferences to give them experience in dealing with the media. After the Army-Navy game last year, a freshman running back was part of the post game dais. He had not been asked anything as the session was drawing to a close, so I asked the young player about his day playing in the big game.

    The freshman was probably more nervous about the press conference then running back a kick off, but gave a fine answer and smiled, pleased he had handled a press conference question. As a reporter it is great to see the players grow in front of your eyes.

    Thanks again, Ken

  • Anonymous

    Do you wear a name badge or tag when interviewing?