How to Develop Great Reporting Skills

Journalist with Microphone
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A good journalist needs to have great reporting skills. Since it takes time to develop great reporting skills, you should work on this area if you're trying to land a job as a reporter or magazine editor.

Good reporting, whether you're doing it face-to-face or over the phone, is key to getting a story done well. And, since misquoting people can ruin your reputation, you need to make sure you do more than just ask the right questions -- you need to listen well and get information down correctly.

Here are some basic rules to remember in order to develop good reporting skills.

Be Prepared

While a reporter needs to be quick on their feet, as they might need to chase a story down quickly, you should always know your subject matter. If you do have a scheduled interview with someone, do your homework. Know the person's background and sketch out the questions you want to ask. You need to go into the interview knowing what you'd like to get out of it and, if you write out your questions ahead of time, you're more likely to stay on track.

Be Prepared, But Not Rigid

While you always want to have a plan in mind before you do an interview, don't be unwilling to let an interview go off in another direction...if it's an interesting one. You never want to let someone you're interviewing ramble on about something pointless but if the interviewee starts talking about something interesting, go with it.

Recognize when someone is saying something interesting and react to that. When you're done with the interesting aside, you can always go back to the questions you prepared beforehand.

Don't Be Afraid of Silences

In general conversation, people have a tendency to want to fill moments of silence with conversation.

In an interview, try to avoid that. Often, if you let seemingly awkward silences go, an interviewee will fill that void with more information.

ALWAYS Ask for Clarification

One of the big mistakes I made early in my career was not asking interview subjects to clarify something. If someone told me something I didn't understand, I often glossed over it assuming I would figure it out later, in part because I was afraid of asking a question that might me look foolish. Don't do this. If you don't understand something as soon as someone says it, chances are it's confusing. And, chances are, your editor is going to ask what that confusing thing means.

A reporter should always, always ask to have an explanation. If something's unclear, phrases like 'What do you mean by that?' or 'Can you explain that further?' often work. If someone's using a lot of jargon, ask them to explain what they're saying in laymen's terms. In general, you don't want to end an interview confused. Make sure you understand what the person said before you leave them or hang up the phone.

The bottom line is, a journalist's job is to report what's happening. If you're unclear on something someone says to you, you won't be able to logically relay the story to the public.

Tell Fast Talkers to Slow Down

While some interviewers have the luxury of tape recording conversations, you'll have to do quick news stories without recording. Therefore you need to be able to quickly type what people are saying. And some people can talk very fast. While most reporters use a shorthand -- basically anything they themselves can read -- make sure to tell people who are talking fast to slow down. Also, if you miss something specific an interviewee said, cut them off, and ask them to repeat it.

Always Get Names Spelled Out

Not every Jane Smith spells her name that way so, even if someone says a name that's recognizable, ask them to spell it out. It should be second nature to get every name of every person you talk to, and every person that person refers to, spelled out for you.