Planning and rehearsing phone interviews pays off

How real are class-based reporting assignments? Karl Idsvoog, an associate professor at Kent State University, tries to make his assignments as real as possible. “Journalism students don’t learn to play hardball by playing softball,” he writes in the most recent issue of the IRE Journal.

For a class reporting project on the fees universities in the Mid-American Conference charge each student to support the school’s athletic budget, Idsvoog’s students began by checking the public records law and preparing an email request for the public records they were seeking. Before the students placed a single call to ask university officials for data, they played “telephone” in class, rehearsing what they would say.

“Prior to this project, I was never vey comfortable calling anyone to ask for data,” said another student, Bethany Vietmeier. “However, during this project, I learned it is very beneficial to plan a phone call before you actually make it.”

What does that get you? Here’s Vietmeier interviewing an associate provost at Ohio University:

Knowing the law helped students recognize when they weren’t getting a straight story, Idsvoog writes. Having a written request prepared before making a call enabled students to sent an email while still on the phone, explaining precisely what records they were seeking.

“It helped me realize I need to ask the right questions the first time,” said student Courtney Thomas. “I also learned you just have to call, call, call back.”