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The main difference between a travel writer and a travel journalist is the former creates content that helps a reader visualize a destination or experience and a travel journalist adds people to his/her story through interviews.

During my time on the road, I’ve met travel writers from around the world. Unfortunately, not all I’ve met—novice and experienced—are interview-savvy and their repertoire is limited to round-up and narrative-style articles.

Joan Mead-Matsui
Joan Mead-Matsui

I am not downplaying the importance of either of these writing styles but incorporating the second and third person into your writing can give you a leg-up when pitching an article to an editor. As you compete with thousands of writers in a specialized niche, learning the art of the interview is a necessity. 

What is an interview? In the journalism world, it is a structured conversation where a reporter asks questions and the interviewee answers. Interviewing is a vehicle a reporter uses to gather information that is vital to a news or feature story. Adding quotes from two reputable sources is the norm for most news articles because they add credibility and can transform your copy into lively, engaging content. 

My first interview attempts straight out of college in the late-1980s sounded more like an inquisition. One encounter immediately comes to mind when I interviewed my former dance teacher. I scribbled feverishly word-for-word every answer on my steno pad, and I don’t think I looked at her twice throughout the interview. She had a perfect view of the top of my head the entire time. This is not the way to conduct an interview— eye contact is important for establishing a rapport with your interviewee.

My technique has improved considerably since. I have learned to ask thought-provoking, open-ended questions that flow effortlessly. I have developed my own style that has allowed me to land more than 1,500 interviews with people in all walks of life, from celebrities to chefs, and win five awards from the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association. This has led to great opportunities, such as when the owner of a tourism website offered me an opportunity to cover accommodations at more than a dozen resorts in Northeastern Pennsylvania.

To get started and follow in my footsteps, here are six quick tips: 

  1. Do your homework before you ask for an interview. Learn as much as you can about the person you want to interview and look for unique angles and topics that haven’t already been covered. 
  2. Ask your interviewee for suggestions, i.e. What’s new in your life? What would you like to talk about? What projects are you working on?
  3. Prepare open-ended questions that set the stage for meaningful dialogue, i.e. What led you to start your business?
  4. Begin your interview with small talk (not senseless chatter), i.e. How’s life where you live? What’s happening in your life today? What do you love about your town? Encourage your interviewee to use descriptive language. 
  5. Be sure you have all relevant background information; also known as the who, what, when, where, and why. Verify the correct spelling of the person’s first and last names, a city and state, company name, and title, if applicable.
  6. Install a recording app on your smartphone and take notes sparingly. This guarantees you won’t miss an important detail while also being able to keep the interview feeling natural.

Following these tips will give your interview a solid footing. Eventually, with practice, you will develop your own style, and interviewing will become second nature. In the meantime, let curiosity and integrity guide you on your journey from travel writer to travel journalist.