Why an Interview is a Writer’s Best Friend?

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An Interview is a Writer's Best Friend?

Ever wondered why there are so many interview based articles in newspapers? Why journalists want to make interviews?

As an editor of small publications, I receive mainly articles without interviews from potential contributors. I wonder why. I’ve always preferred an interview as a means to gain knowledge and content for my writing. Yesterday I talked with a fellow journalist, who teaches writing. She had a similar experience. It is very difficult to get non-professional writers to do an interview. But why?

Let me tell you a secret. Journalists love interviews and for a very good reason. It’s easy, quick and interesting – by spending half an hour with an expert of the subject in hand, I’ll have plenty of information to spread to my audience and, in an interesting format in this particular person’s own voice. Not to mention, that the interviewee has basically written the article for me by telling everything I need and want to know. Beats researching any day.

So don’t coward from interviews, they are the absolute best way to do an article. And there are 3 main reasons for this:

Learn from the Interviewee

You can research your subject to infinity, but there’s no better way to learn than to meet the expert herself. If you want to convey to your audience information, emotions or an impressive story, get it straight from the horse’s mouth.

You’ll save plenty of time on research and most often the interviewees will lead you to new information you wasn’t even aware of. While you’re asking questions from your interviewee, you’re not only gathering material for your article, blog or writing in general, but you’re learning about the topic.

Are you afraid you won’t have any questions? Prepare a set before hand, but don’t forget to follow a lead, if the interviewee offers you a gold nugget on a silver plate… I have very seldom been in a situation, where it was difficult to come up with questions. I’m endlessly curious, as most/all journalists are/should be, so asking questions is kind of given. You also get into the mode with some practice. After a decade or so in the job, it is your second nature.

Liven up Your Text

If you’d like to write about e.g. a certain hobby, you can usually find plenty of information on it in the web and in books. However, this information tends to be general in nature and often also a bit outdated at best. What’s more, it might not deal with the specific viewpoint you’re interested in.

Let’s say you want to write about starting to practice parkour as a middle aged woman. All the basic information is certainly available in literature and you can even watch parkour videos in YouTube, but how could you get the feelings and opinions of a middle aged woman about what it was like to begin the hobby? There’s only one way to really know – you have to ask a middle aged woman! (Or try it out yourself, if you happen to be a middle aged woman!)

The voice of real experience will give the writing an element of authenticity, which would be hard to attain otherwise. An interviewee will also tell about the topic in ways and use a vocabulary, which will differ at least a bit from yours. This will bring variety and interest to your story.

Meet the People You’ve Always Wanted to Meet

Perks of being a journalist – it’s an easy way to get to meet interesting people. Sure, it might be a bit of a struggle to get an interview from the Queen Elisabeth on how to maintain a life balance as a career woman, but if your aim’s on a realistic level, it shouldn’t be too difficult. People tend to like talking about themselves and topics they are passionate about. As a writer this gives you a chance to open doors, which would stay closed otherwise.

An interview is the easiest way to get content for an article. So, get out there and interview!

Susan

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Small is Beautiful – How to Succeed with a Local Newspaper?

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Dear Competitors or Collaborators?

Competition in the mediascape is bloodthirsty. There are basically two options to finance a publication: subscribers or advertisements (or the combination of these two). Either way, funding is limited. How is it then possible, that in northern Helsinki three viable local newspapers are being distributed in overlapping areas and they even have friendly relationships with each other?

The secret is in the content

Oulunkyläinen is distributed partly in the same area with two other local newspapers, Käpylä-lehti and Maunulan Sanomat. These two happen to be non-profit publications as well.

Is there fierce competition? Yes and no. All of these newspapers have their own main geographical area, on which they focus. The surrounding areas are needed, as one area would be too small to keep their heads above surface.  The contents are about the local area contributed by the local writers. This gives a definitive advantage in the eyes of the readers. In a local publication it is possible to take up issues that would never prove newsworthy in a regional newspaper.

The element of competition comes from the advertisement sales.  So far it seems the businesses understand the benefits of getting coverage among a broad local readership. In a smaller newspaper even a small advertisement is visible in a completely different way compared with a larger one in a major regional newspaper, where all ads are lost in the static.

Find your niche!

All three newspapers have distinct focus regarding their content. Oulunkyläinen actively takes up city planning issues and has expert contributors in that field. Oulunkyläinen is also regularly reporting on the local sports and arts scene. Käpylä-lehti focuses on local grass roots issues and culture and Maunulan Sanomat has outlined a clear goal to develop the local residential area in cooperation with the city.

For a local newspaper it is very important to be a platform of the local residents’ voice. Every geographical area has its own issues and that provides a possibility to create a unique image for the newspaper.

3 Styles of Production

I met the two other editors-in-chief, Eija Tuomela-Lehti from Käpylä-lehti and Hannu Kurki from Maunulan Sanomat, to join our forces and discuss about making non-profit magazines in Helsinki.

Käpylä-lehti is distributed in 12 different boroughs and produced by a graphic design company that publishes also other publications and takes care of the ad sales. Käpylä-lehti comes out 10 times a year. The publisher is Käpylä-Seura, a local residents’ association. The editor-in-chief and the producer are the only paid staff.

Maunulan Sanomat is a different type of local newspaper. It is published by a support association of the newspaper. This kind of arrangement grants it quite an independent status. Maunulan Sanomat is put together by voluntary efforts except for the graphic designer, and it is even supported financially by the publishers when necessary. Maunulan Sanomat comes out four times a year and is distributed to three boroughs.

Oulunkyläinen has yet another operating system: it is published by Oulunkylä-Seura (a residents’ association) and has an editor-in-chief and a graphic designer as paid staff. Oulunkyläinen is distributed to 11 boroughs and comes out six times a year.

Clearly there are several options to produce a local newspaper. Depending on the goals and scope of the publication, almost any arrangement seems possible. However, all editors-in-chief agree that the more often the newspaper is published the better. It is desirable for the advertisers and it gives better possibilities regarding the editorial content too.

Lone wolfs or team spirit?

Being an editor-in-chief is a position of responsibility, no matter what size or significance the publication has. There are legal responsibilities, but there are also ethical responsibilities and requirements for the goals of the publication. Because editor-in-chief is the person taking on her/his shoulders both the successes and the failures of the publication, she/he often also takes the full control of the reins of the production. This possibility is also one major factor in attracting editors to non-profit magazines. There is a lot of freedom. But there are also other ways to tackle editorship for the more team spirited.

Maunulan Sanomat has a truly communal production process to put together each issue. The newspaper holds several editorial meetings open to all residents in the area. The meetings are held at Maunulan Mediapaja, a space designated for open residents’ activities. There is a group of interested contributors, who write and photograph for the newspaper and design it together with the editor-in-chief.

Käpylä-lehti and Oulunkyläinen have a more editor-centered system. At Käpylä-lehti, editor-in-chief does the whole newspaper pretty much single handed, even making the first design for the layout. At Oulunkyläinen, the editor makes the decisions on the contents, but there is one editorial meeting before every issue to gather ideas and distribute writing responsibilities. The meetings are an important way to keep contributors motivated. The Oulunkyläinen editor also works in close contact with the Oulunkylä-Seura board.

Pay it forward

There are many different ways to make a non-profit publication. What works for one association, probably wouldn’t work for another, not directly at least. But good practices can always be adapted from those, who have created them. If you have found a good way to deal with challenges of non-profit publications, please tell about it! These publications have an important role in the community; they give a voice to residents and increase the sense of community.

The more the local newspapers are read and valued among the readers, the more advertisers they are bound to attract. And readers are interested in well made, relevant content. If we work together to improve our publications, it will pay off to all of us in the end.

3 Editors-in-chief
Hannu Kurki and Eija Tuomela-Lehti discussed with me the ins and outs of making local newspapers at Cactus restaurant in Käpylä. Photo by Ellinoora Kempe

It was very interesting to talk with the colleagues in the local media scene. Hopefully our discussion continues!

Susan

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Non-profit Publications – What Are They?

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Do you need more than an editor to make a publication?

My home country, Finland, is sometimes called the promised land of associations. We have approximately 135 000 registered associations with a population of 5 million. It perhaps illustrates this nation’s eagerness to formalize even the grass root activities. Many of these associations also publish their own magazines or periodicals.

Very often this publication is the result of one member’s efforts. It is published when enough material has been gathered. In the other end of the spectrum are the magazines of very large non-profits. These publications are put together by media companies that specialize in client magazines. In between these two extremes, there are quite a few professional and ambitious publications, made by tiny editorial teams.

Most often the staff consists of an Editor-in-chief and a graphic designer (and sometimes even these are just one person). All the articles and photos are acquired from volunteer contributors. Thus the quality range can be wide and articles sometimes require a lot of editing before they can be published. On the other hand, volunteer contributors are often the most passionate and committed experts in their own field.

Where do you find content?

The field of the non-profit determines what kind of articles one can get to its publication. Some fields are filled with prolific writers, who are eager to share their experiences and studies. It might be that a non-profit publication is for these writers an excellent outlet to spread their knowledge. This is of course a win-win situation for all: the writer, the non-profit and the readers.

The lifeline of the local newspapers, published by non-profit associations, is the hunger to get exposure for local issues by organizations and local residents. Residents often find the local newspaper an important channel to influence communal politicians and bureaucrats alike and to bring forward topics that the national media doesn’t pay attention to. This kind of local media is in fact an excellent way to promote a common cause by bringing together local associations and other groups.

Are you a non-profit publication editor?

I am the Editor-in-chief for two non-profit publications: Maatiainen and Oulunkyläinen. Maatiainen is a specialist magazine focusing on heritage plant and domestic animal species. The scope of the magazine is broad; it covers topics from eco-friendliness to traditional tools. Gardening, husbandry and traditions yield an infinite treasure trove of topics. Oulunkyläinen is a local newspaper. It is published in Helsinki, in 11 suburban neighborhoods and it reports about all sides of the local life. In this publication, local events, people and small companies are in focus.

All though I run two non-profit publications, the field itself is somewhat unfamiliar to me. In Finland there is no common platform for people making this kind of publications. Should we have one? I would certainly like to exchange thoughts with other non-profit editors every now and then. These publications share some special features that people at larger commercial publications are not aware of.

Are you also making a non-profit publication? Drop me a line in the comments and share your thoughts!

Susan

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