Firstly, why do we conduct interviews? For a journalist, the interview is one of the most vital sources of information for crafting a story, alongside documents and personal observations. Whether it’s a business background piece or a personal portrait, the aim is to speak to real people. This could be for their knowledge and expertise or because of their personal experiences or views on a subject. This authenticity makes a story real, credible and relatable. These elements are crucial not only for the quality of your story but also for its appeal. After all, you want your story to be read, and people enjoy reading about people.

Background on interview procedures. EM didn’t invent these, but they are widely practiced in journalism. The complete set of rules regarding interviews is available on our website.

No contract is required for an interview. Verbally agreeing to the interview request from the journalist – who has clearly stated who they are and what they want to talk to you about – means consenting to publication. This consent cannot be withdrawn after the interview. Once something’s been said, it can’t be taken back. So, before agreeing to an interview, carefully consider the potential consequences and only disclose what you want to share.

Being allowed to review the interview before publication is a courtesy, not a right, and is solely intended to prevent errors. An interviewee doesn’t have to agree with the text, but they can, if requested, review the text to check for any factual inaccuracies. After all, this is also in the journalist’s interest. Interviewees often suggest other changes, such as writing style or personal preferences, but the journalist isn’t obligated to incorporate them if they don’t contribute to the story.

This may sound strict, and it essentially is. The journalist, and not the interviewee, is the story’s owner. These rules stem from the idea that journalism has a duty to check power and provide an accurate representation of reality, rather than being a mouthpiece for the powerful or individuals’ PR tool.

That is why the interviewee also has no say in the headline or the photo accompanying the article. These aren’t intended to allow the interviewee to sculpt the first impression of themselves, but rather to draw the reader into the story. As a journalist, you’re trained to make these choices and know your audience best.

At EM, we often allow interviews to be reviewed if the interviewee requests this. And that’s fine.  Especially when it comes to complex scientific topics where nuance is important, or very personal stories – as a journalist, you want your story to be accurate and a true reflection of the interviewee’s story. One of the best compliments I’ve ever received as an interviewer was that I had captured someone’s feelings in my words just as they had intended but couldn’t express.

As a journalist, you don’t always realise that you’re asking quite a bit of someone when you request an interview. Whether that person is willing to open up, answer personal questions and give their opinion on sometimes contentious issues. This can be quite nerve-wracking, especially if the interviewee, like the student mentioned at the beginning of this piece, has never given an interview before. So, it was good that she asked beforehand.

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