This was probably the most informal one that I did, and (not unrelatedly) the most fun. I generally get along perfectly well with the politicians and legislators that I talk to, but usually the time constraints alone are significant. Your average Congressman or Senator is generally running around things like CPAC with a staff of at least two, both of which he or she legitimately needs to keep track of where he or she needs to go next, where he or she has just gone, and how to fit various and sundry requests for ‘just five minutes’ into a fairly non-Euclidean schedule format*. But the Steve King was first thing in the morning, and it was fairly relaxed, and I liked the guy.
We talked a good bit about Obamacare: I meant to bring up Medal of Honor winner Sal Giunta, but I didn’t. Heck, if I was going to ask about Iowan heroes I should have asked him about Norman Borlaug. Such is life.
Never approach interview subject unless you are prepared to do the interview within the next five minutes, or at a specific time.
Business card. Name, site, email address that you are checking regularly, cell phone number.
When approaching legislator, look for person or persons orbiting legislator that looks slightly harried.
When approaching harried person, introduce yourself and site, ask for press secretary or ‘who does [Legislator]’s media availability.’ Present card.
You are either talking to that person, or harried person will direct you to that person. If directed to another person, approach repeat name and site, and make request for interview. Tell them time frame in advance.
Be prepared to accept a card in return. Put it in different pocket than your cards. Don’t be distressed when you goof that up; everybody does that.
If they say that now is good, then now is good. If they ask to get back to you, quickly note on business card when a good time would be to get back to you, smile, murmur pleasantry, step away. If they say no interviews, smile, invite them to give you a call back if things change, murmur pleasantry, step away.
If they give you a time slot, be available and ready to go early. They may be late; if they are, it’s usually because somebody before you was unavailable and unprepared.
If they want to know what the subject is, you can say things like “Well, we want to get a general introductory interview with her” or “As you know, this position that he has on Issue X is kind of a big deal right now” without betraying the cause of online journalism. Also, I don’t often get asked what specific questions I’m going to be asking; and when I do get asked I typically decline to give a specific answer.
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