Interview Guidelines

The SM staffers will always be careful to identify themselves as reporters and make sure that the people they are interviewing understand they are talking to reporters. The SM does not work undercover. While casual conversations may inform stories, interviews must be clearly delineated so that the person being interviewed is aware that what they are saying may be published.

Before the interview: If the reporter has time, he or she does some research, including a search for background information in the local student media web site and/or phone calls. The reporter may also talk with the editor or other staff members about possible story angles.


A reporter should come into an interview with at least a conversational knowledge of the specialized field of the interviewee. This is so the reporter can discern what is most interesting, important and critical to the news story.


It is a responsible reporter's obligation to conduct as much research and preparation as possible prior to an interview.

A reporter can always take advantage of office hours, held daily by the editors, to discuss an interview before or after it takes place.

Arranging the interview: Names and phone numbers of potential subjects come from the assignment and from the


reporter’s own research. When contacting a subject, the reporter must identify himself or herself, as well as the student media web site. The reporter should then tell the subject the general type of information being sought. A reporter must be aware of the interview subject’s time constraints, and must be prepared to rearrange his or her schedule to accommodate a source. Should a reporter need to cancel an interview, it must be done prior to the pre-arranged time of the interview.

Remember that when there is an issue, there are individuals in opposition to one another. Get the arguments of each side, and give each side an opportunity to respond to any criticism or complaints.


During the interview: A reporter must be on time and dress appropriately. The reporter should bring a good (small) note pad and reliable pens or pencils. The reporter may also bring along a small recorder or use a recording app from their phone to back up his or her notes. Please read the section on taping. The SM has suitable notebooks available to staffers.


During the interview, the reporter listens for good, usable quotes while being careful to record important information that will inform the story.


If the interviewee protests for any number of reasons during the interview or demands to have a story crushed, it is not the reporter's responsibility to appease them, nor is it his or her responsibility to argue for the story. In such situations, the reporter should provide the interviewee with his or her editor's contact information.


Reporters should always ask if the interviewee if there is any other information he or she should ask them about before closing the interview.


Off-the-Record Comments: The SM policy is for reporters never to agree to conduct an interview in any way other than on-the-record, unless the Editor-in-Chief has been consulted before the interview. In almost every situation, the reporter can find another way to get the story. Agreeing to go off the record usually ends up limiting the reporter and the student media in the pursuit of a story. Your best bet is to tell the source that he should not tell you the information unless it is on the record. After the interview, you are not ethically bound to keep the material out of print if you did not agree to do so. Be very careful with this. You do not want to lose a valuable source over a trivial piece of information. If you did agree to go off-the-record, you are not to use the information. This is a matter of ethics as well as the SM policy. Please refer to the Associated Press Manual for a more detailed explanation of off-the-record and on background.


Anonymous sources policy/Agreements with sources/Confidentiality Reporters must not promise confidentiality to a source for any reason without the consent of the Editor-in-Chief. Confidential sources should be used only in stories of vital public interest.


Confidentiality should only be granted if there is a real danger of physical, emotional or financial harm to the source should the source reveal his or her name. The reporter and editor should have the facts and the source’s name before confidentiality is granted. Confidential sources must be used with care and only when absolutely necessary. Whenever possible, information given by a confidential source should be confirmed by at least one other credible source.


The U.S. Supreme Court has deemed an agreement of anonymity or to keep information off-the-record to be an oral contract, enforceable by law and when a staffer makes an agreement with a source, the student media web site will uphold that agreement. Because of the legal nature of such an agreement, staff members are prohibited from making one without first consulting with the Editor-in-Chief and staff members may face disciplinary consequences if they agree to anonymity or off the record interviews without permission.