During my capstone’s trip to Dubuque yesterday, we had an interesting conversation about one of the biggest things we would miss upon leaving Drake University: our Student Journalist Card.
It’s not a physical card of course — and it’s not an idea, concept or dream — it’s a weapon. It’s a tool that’s more useful than any little piece of technology Steve Jobs could come up with, and in just a couple months, I lose it forever.
Here’s how the Student Journalist Card works. You phone or visit your source, whether that be the mayor of a small business, dictator of a country, rock star or scummy landlord, and you sit down to interview them. You say something along the lines of, “Hi! I’m Matt Nelson, a journalism student at Drake University, and I was really really hoping you could maybe help me out with an article I’m working on?”
You sound naive, eager and maybe a little stupid — which is exactly what you want. You want your source to underestimate you, to let down their guard so they feel free-er in answering your questions.
This might sound underhanded, but it really isn’t. The point of any interview is to get your subject comfortable speaking with you, so they speak from the heart and capture the essence of their story in quotes that are interpretable and eloquent.
This works for hard as well as soft stories. Sometimes people get nervous talking to people they know are media-savvy, and being a student journalist isn’t nearly as intimidating.
As a student journalist, I am young, naive and prone to stumbling. As a student journalist at Drake, I can appear to be all these things while still being adept on my feet. It’s a handy tactic that’s gotten me great stories, great opportunities — and the chance to get the real voice of my source out.