What journalists think about information interviews

Colleen Tang asked working journalists how they felt being asked to do information interviews, if they expect anything from the person requesting the interview and if they think these interviews are a good idea in general. Here’s what a few had to say.

I shared my thoughts on the importance of information interviews for aspiring and young journalists but do the professionals think they’re useful as well? I asked a few working journalists their opinion about information interviews. I asked them how they felt being asked to do one, do they expect anything from the person requesting the interview and if they find them to be a good idea.

Here’s what four journalists had to say:

I do get a fair number of requests, and I am happy to do them.  I think of it as part of my job as communities editor, but also one of the ways that I can contribute to a better understanding of what I do…I would expect the interviewer to have done a little bit of research on me and my job and my background, enough to ask intelligent questions…I don’t find them to be a waste of time at all.
–Mathew Ingram, communities editor, Globe and Mail

I don’t mind getting requests for information interviews and I will certainly do them if I have time. When we’re in production, it can be a little tight to steal time away from the office. I don’t get too many requests — maybe one a month…As I run the internship program, most of the requests come from people who are hoping to apply for an intern position. I expect them to know about the magazine, to have a feel of the tone and to have opinions on what they like/don’t like about the magazine…I don’t think they are a waste of time at all. Even if nothing comes from the interview on either side, it’s important to make connections. And I would not hesitate to recommend someone I’d met at an information interview for a freelance project, etc. if I thought they were the right fit.
–Katie Dupuis, production editor, Chatelaine

I don’t get a ton of requests for formal information interviews from student journalists or aspiring freelancers. Most of the requests we’ve received like that comes from people looking for internships or freelancing opportunities, and then we tend to just correspond via email instead of sitting down to talk about it in person. I’m always happy to meet up with people to share information. I would expect them to know a bit about the publication or, at the very least, know what they want to get out of possibly writing for us.

In a non-recession world, what usually happens in terms of us taking on new writers is that they pitch us via email and we ask them for writing samples. In general, I don’t find that meeting in person changes the dynamic of whether we will hire them or not, just as meeting a publicist in person doesn’t change whether we will provide them with coverage. But I do think that information interviews do have value for freelancers if they are trying to get to know editors in their community, particularly magazine editors. The best thing, I think, is bringing a solid arsenal of pitches and clear objectives to the meeting so the editor will have a good idea of what you’re looking to do for the publication if you end up writing for it.”
–Jackie Wong, news reporter for the WestEnder

I do not get a lot of requests for informational interviews.  I don’t think I’ve ever actually been asked. 

…If approached for an informational interview I would expect a short explanation of why the person wants to know the particular information they are seeking.  As it is only an informational interview I would also expect to be able to ask any relevant question of them as it applied to the conversation.  I also feel that in the case of an informational interview refusing to answer a question should be completely acceptable and have no particular consequence.  I expect the interviewer to come prepared with some background information. 

If they are asking me about my job they should know a few basic things about my organization and my responsibilities.  If they had not taken the necessary preparation to figure out a few key questions I would likely feel like my time was being wasted. In the media industry there is one other thing I would keep in mind: I would be very unlikely to agree to an informational interview if I felt the interviewer was simply using the information for some sort of gain at their place of employment.  Information for themselves is one thing, but information to pass along to the competition is another.

I do think informational interviews could be very useful for those who are doing a variety of part-time or freelance work within the world of journalism.
–Megan Smyth, writer, associate producer at Global Television BC