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Getting to the Depths of It - The Art of the Interview

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As a journalist in the lifestyle sector (I'm the deputy editor of online magazine To Be Continued), a big part of the job is toeing the line between what the readers want and what makes the 'talent' happy.

If you're to feature an interview with an A-list celebrity, and the readers want to know about their latest divorce settlement, then you are faced with a problem. Do you lose the trust of said celebrity and ask the awkward questions anyway, or do you steer clear of the subject and potentially lose readers, and subsequently advertising? Integrity should be at the heart of all a journalist does, but as we've recently seen in the press, sometimes other factors completely take over.

Aside from this, as a journalist it's important to know exactly what makes people tick. There are many things that make journalists tick; unhelpful PRs, stubborn agents, wayward creatives... the list goes on, but it's really knowing what makes 'people' tick in general that makes a good interview, keeping the peace between interviewees and the readers by making your interview interesting yet 'above board' (if only slightly).

When I conduct an interview, I start off by giving the subject a little something about myself. Now, I know that this sounds a bit self-indulgent, but the idea is that I give something away in order to gain trust. This bit of information could be something about where I'm from that we might have in common (many of the people that I've interviewed have had some connection to Lancashire oddly), or it could be as simple as telling them that I've been listening to their music since I was a toddler (ahem, Martyn Ware of The Human League).

Once this nugget of information is submitted, the ice is (usually) officially broken. This will then open up an opportunity to ask your questions. Questions should always come from a strong basis of research. There is nothing worse than overhearing a poorly researched interview, 'oh, I just loved you in Cocktail'... cue awkward silence between the journalist and Charlie Sheen. This is obviously a dramatic example, but it really does happen. Trust me.

A journalist should always prepare more questions than they're expecting to ask. As a junior, I experienced a slightly stagnant interview with Jo Wood because I was put completely on the spot. Jo Wood is one of the loveliest people you could hope to meet, so luckily this was less than a catastrophe and I still came away with enough material to get my article written - however there is still a lesson to be learnt here.

There is always the question of whether it is acceptable to drink alcohol with your interviewee, fiercely debated amongst those in the industry. The general consensus is that it is not acceptable, however for some journalists it's their trademark technique. I would always advise journalists to stay sober until the end of the interview, and then I suppose it's at your discretion- as long as you turn off your dictaphone.

Finally, there are the parting words. Always make sure that you leave dialogue open with your interviewee after the interview has come to an end. There's nothing worse than a missed detail, which could be rectified in a quick telephone call or email. It pays to ask your interviewee if you can contact them for any further information, otherwise you could end up Googling all night to meet your deadline.

As you progress through your career in journalism, you'll develop your own style, but by using the basic tricks of the trade you'll be ready to hit the ground running from your first assignment - straddling the needs of your editor and the readers sufficiently. All that's left to do is ensure the batteries are charged in your Dictaphone, your shorthand is as quick as it can possibly be and your questions are razor sharp - just like Paxman.