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Mar 9 / Joel Cordes

Internship Insider: An interview about interviewing

Part I and Part II inspired some excellent conversation among our Internship teams this week:

How do you balance asking the hard-hitting questions while still respecting the athletes? In politics, the media is constantly trying to make politicians slip up, but I imagine it’s different in the sports world?

Not necessarily. Many sports reporters mistakenly fancy themselves as athletic versions of Woodward and Bernstein.

Some are very good at it, but it’s not universally effective and can too often ring quite hollow.

Take both the athlete’s job and yours absolutely seriously, but keep things in perspective.

Hard-hitting questions definitely have their place; you never have to coddle someone for doing their job. Yet, how you ask is probably just as important as what you ask.

I always try to flip the script: How would I best respond if someone were asking me about my job, criticizing my work, dissecting something within my control or out of it?

Show a little empathy. Start by commiserating on a tough play or break, and you’ll likely wind up with an even better answer than if you had begun on the attack.

Make it obvious that you’re not out to trick anyone. Reporters who fish for a controversial quote usually do make the headlines, but they rarely get to play that card more than once before people stop talking to them.

How have your interview styles evolved over time?

I used to script everything I wanted to ask. Heaven forbid a player or coach got off my track.

Be specific, but allow for a player to tell their own side of the story. Jot down what big topics you want to cover, but let the game context and/or interview itself naturally guide where you go from there. Always let a player or coach finish talking before you inquire about inconsistencies or gray areas of their response.

I used to limit myself to smaller-name players in a locker room, not believing that I could fight through a crowd of reporters to chat with the star.

A reporter is going to get turned down repeatedly, and seemingly without reason. But it’s rarely if ever personal and never final. For every Carmelo Anthony who initially refused to talk with me, there was a Joe Johnson or Steve Nash who unexpectedly was available.

You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take. So keep shooting.

Any other interview standards you can share?

- Do your research. Spend 30 minutes (at a minimum) getting background information on the athlete(s) you will be interviewing.

- For phone interviews, use headphones, or at least set your phone at an audible tone on speakerphone and put it down on a flat surface. It is almost impossible to manage note-taking with the phone held up to your ears. Make sure you are in an area with good reception when making or receiving the call.

- Ask the easy questions first and the tough ones later to make sure you walk away with a complete interview.

- Avoid yes/no questions. They sometimes work as ice-breakers or as a lead-in to another question, or sometimes you just need to know whether the answer to some specific question is yes or no. But if you ask a yes/no question, you should expect a one-word answer.

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Thanks to Bleacher Report intern Amelia Ahlgren for inspiring this post!

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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.

  • Louis Musto

    Do you have any ideas/recommendations for recording phone interviews?

    • Joel Cordes

      Hi Louis,

      As above, make sure you have a controlled environment, head phones and a flat surface. Also, set the interview parameters ahead of time with whoever you’re interviewing (i.e. briefly preview the topics you want to touch on once the “actual” interview starts). If this is simply to jot down some notes, then timing isn’t as big of a deal. If it’s being recorded and re-aired publically, give yourself a 5 second countdown before the interview starts (and have your editing equipment nearby). Avoid dead air. Let people think for a few seconds, but once an answer is done, move on to the next question in timely fashion.

  • Amelia

    Thanks Joel!