What’s Your Jawn?: A Young Journalist’s Guide to Interview-Based Writing

By Amy Marcus

VoteThatJawn’s Mission: Using the power of youth voice and connection, #VoteThatJawn aims to bring 18-year-olds and other first-time voters to the polls—beginning a process toward full civic engagement—not just for a charismatic candidate, but to advocate for youth issues, youth safety, agency, and inclusion.

In a few paragraphs, we’re going to invite you to write a blog for VoteThatJawn.com. But before that, because we know that young people take in information all sorts of ways, we’re going to invite you, right now to do two things:

  1. Follow @VoteThatJawn on Instagram. Yes, we want followers! But we hope that this IG account will give you a look at our information delivery system: how one youth-led organization is combining information and graphics to communicate important non-partisan messages.

  2. Participate in what we do, bringing youth in to read and learn, by making a short PSA on your phone now. It’s a video of you saying: “Vote That Jawn!” Drop it here, and in a couple weeks, come look for yourself on our website banner!

Now on to the summer J-school:

Objective and assignment: We want you to write about your jawn—that issue that ignites a fire in you and can or could or will drive you to the polls. We want to hear your voice, and we want you to support it with the work of someone in the greater Philadelphia community. Maybe a local legislator is pushing for change in Harrisburg or an activist is leading the community charge right here at home. Maybe a researcher or professional could provide the insight you need to write a spectacular piece. Whoever you choose, we’ll show you how to conduct an interview and transform it into a great piece of writing.

Interview-based writing basics:

  1. Finding a subject and making contact

  • This begins with good research. Find someone whose expertise aligns with your passion. Look for local politicians, activists, professors or community leaders. Philadelphia has a wealth of accomplished and passionate people who would be happy to talk to you.

  • Use Google and social media to find the people in Philadelphia who are experts in your topic!

  • You would be surprised at how many people actually want to talk to you about their work! People love talking to students in particular about their passions, especially when yours align.

  • On the other hand, don’t be discouraged if someone declines your request or simply doesn’t reply. Have a backup plan! There is nothing wrong with interviewing more than one person even if you only plan to use one subject in your final piece.

  • Many websites have contact or media pages where you can find contact information like office phone numbers or email addresses.

Here’s an example: You may have heard that PA schools are funded unequally across the state. When you Google the phrase “Funding PA schools fairly,” you’ll see lots of entries. Near the top, an organization called PCCY—Public Citizens for Children and Youth—has published a full website, complete with facts, and where the facts come from, Fact Sheet: PA’s Fair Funding Formula. After you click on lots of other articles and sites, you see that PCCY’s is far more comprehensive. Of course, you’d want to check out its staff and board. Are any of them associated with groups that have sneaky agendas aside from the health and welfare of children? Any whackos, to speak plainly?

No? Phew. So now, you can decide where your passion intersects with some of their research. And then, find who is it whose quotes in that area speak to you.

  • Persistence is key! Once you’ve chosen someone to be the center of your piece, don’t be afraid to send multiple emails, call if you find a phone number or even reach out over social media.

  • Make your initial approach via email when possible. In your email, introduce yourself as a local student and give a brief description of your assignment and your passion for the issue. Tell your subject why you believe their insight to be essential to your piece!

2. Preparation

  • Draft questions! This is one of the most important steps