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Mar 2 / Joel Cordes

Internship Insider: Interview pros like a pro (Part II)

I began interviewing pro players and coaches nearly 10 years ago with no experience or journalism background whatsoever. Here’s another batch of what I learned from my mistakes, successes and observing others. Read Part I here.

6. When in doubt, ask.

Whether it’s your first interview or just your first trip to a new venue, there are going to be unknowns. Whether I’m interviewing via phone, locker room, press conference, etc., I have yet to find a PR staff that has a problem with helping media follow the rules. Assuming is what brings you trouble.

7. Keep the PR people happy.

You don’t have to coddle anyone for doing their job, but saying “thank you” every now and again goes a long way towards keeping your team/player contacts in your corner. Everyone’s job is a lot easier that way.

8. Think three steps ahead.

Once you’ve had your protocol questions answered, proceed with a humble confidence. Know what you’re going to ask ahead of time, anticipate responses and be prepared with your own. Be natural. You don’t have to pre-script everything, and be prepared to change your approach on the fly.

9. Observe. Then report.

If in a locker room or a press conference, take the “fly on the wall” approach for a few minutes. Silent observation never singles you out, but can be invaluable. You get a feel for who’s ready to talk, how things work with that organization and where fellow reporters are succeeding or striking out.

10. Act like you’ve been there before.

Any good sportswriter better still have the fan alive inside. At the same time, you are NEVER interviewing as a fan. In 2007 I spent 20 minutes in the road office with then-Dallas Mavericks head coach Avery Johnson. We informally talked about David Robinson and their careers together on those ’90s San Antonio Spurs squads I grew up idolizing.  I did let him know my affinity for those teams, but didn’t break character, ask for pictures, autographs, etc. It was one of my favorite press experiences ever.

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Thanks to B/R Blog reader and Bleacher Report writer Ken Kraetzer for inspiring this list!

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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.

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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, thanks, again, the golden rule of treating people politely goes a long way. We cover West Point where protocol is taken very seriously. As you said taking in what is going on is important. Asking permission and hearing yes that’s fine, when you on-site leads to more opportunities down the road. Example, I asked permisison to attend Saturday morning’s spring football practice session and they said see you there. Best, Ken

    • Ken Kraetzer

      A quick follow-up, attended the 7 AM practice at West Point this morning. About 120 players and coaches under the roof of the indoor field. I asked the SID Brian Gunning about taking pictures, he said “Tight” photos of players were ok, not of formations. As a guest you respect the ground rules.

      The practice went on with 9 on 9 drills and then about an hour of near full contact scrimage. I made sure my microphone and recorder were ready to go as you can never tell exactly when the pratice is over and you have just a few minutes to ask players and coaches for interviews before they run off.

      When the last team huddle broke, I ran over to were the Army head coach Rich Ellerson was talking to a few visitors. Before I knew it he came over to me to offer to do a short interview. Coach Ellerson is very helpful and a long answer guy, I sometimes break his answers into several parts. As he was speaking he was looking around to see who else he needed to talk to. Was not sure if I could ask a third question, but did and the coach gave another solid quote. Sometimes you have to sense when to break and just say “Thank You”.

      The Army three year starting QB Trent Steelman was in the area waiting for the equipment to be ready for a video interview. I asked Trent if he could do an interview but the video guys pulled him over. Another Army starter, cornerback Josh Jackson was waiting to do a video so I asked him for a short interview. Josh is a thoughtful young cadet from Georgia and a fearless punt returner. We are having a nice chat and I see Trent having finished his video walking over to talk with me.

      How great is that when the Army head coach and two of the top players on the team recognize you for interviews. As Joel said, it is about building relationships and being polite. The West Point players and staff are impressive people and Josh and Trent will be dedicated Army officers after graduation.

      Know most of you focus on the likes of ND, Texas and USC, but I’ll stay with Army.

      Thanks again, Ken

  • Sam

    If you get a press pass from Bleacher Report (I’ve heard that som Featured Columnists score some), can you say you are a “representative of B/R”? Thanks.

    • Anonymous

      Yes. If you are representing Bleacher Report on a press credential that Bleacher Report arranged for you, then of course you can present yourself as a Bleacher Report reporter. But if you have access some other way — through another site or publication, or just because you know someone, for example — you may not use Bleacher Report’s name. You are not representing B/R in instances like that.

      • Sam

        So should you carry an ID card or wear a nametag? I’m new to journalism.

        • Anonymous

          If you are credentialed to an event, in most cases they will give you some sort of pass to wear around your neck or occasionally stick on your shirt. You should of course always bring your ID to such an event, as you should bring it everywhere else you go. (And wear clean underwear.)

          • Sam

            Ha ha… what type of ID card?