Interview Like a Honey Badger

A dark skinned woman with short curly dark hair and glasses smiles at a laptop while writing in a notebook and wearing ear bunds

Instructor Amanda Castleman, a pale Caucasian middle-aged woman with blue eyes and long brown hairA smiling Asian-American woman with lime-green shoulder-length hair and silver necklaces draping over a purple short-sleeved top. The background looks rainforesty.Food writing instructor Kae Lani Palmisano, a smiling biracial woman with dark shoulder-length curls. She's posed in a chic kitchen, holding a glass of red wine and wearing a white, short-sleeved blouse with a pussycat bow.

Instructors: Amanda Castleman (lead), Jennifer Kho and Kae Lani Palmisano
Start date
: 9/17/22
Duration: five weeks
Price: $300, full scholarships available
Genre: any
Level: any
Enroll now!

Editors count on writers to be their eyes and ears out in the world. But interviews can be intimidating to set up and conduct — whether you’re a self-taught rising talent, a seasoned staffer or a hardcore very veteran freelancer! This five-week course will prepare you to fully harness powerful tools to land more choice assignments and rock them.

We’ll explore how interviews can rocket-fuel your pitches, even if your source plan isn’t fully mapped-out yet. Then we’ll dive into where to find voices — especially under-represented ones — and how to attract or approach them.

This course also covers interview techniques, from preparing questions to recording tools, legal considerations, and how to document for fact checkers. And of course we spend plenty of time on the 800-pound gorilla in the room: overcoming the yips to put sources at ease and draw out good quotes.

Interview Like a Honey Badger welcomes writers in all non-fiction genres, across the web, newspapers and magazines. This asynchronous class has weekly lectures, assignments and feedback, but no fixed time you must be online.

Instructor Amanda Castleman started her journalism career in 1993, and has interviewed everyone from celebrities to politicians, scientists and Indigenous elders (biggest case of nerves to date: trying not to fan-girl at Alice Walker). Her current clients include AARP, Sierra, National Geographic, The New York Times and various in-flights. She remembers her initial discomfort and what helped it fade. After turning that corner, she found talking to sources — getting a window into their worlds — to be her favorite part of journalism aside from seeing pieces publish!

She’ll share 28 years of hard-won skills and advice, giving students personal feedback on projects each week and empowering them to level-up their writing!

Alumni describe Amanda as a “a dream teacher, just the right balance between a knuckle-rapping tutor and a mom full of hugs.” Her feedback has been celebrated as amazing, funny, insightful, confidence-boosting, and “exceptional in terms of quality, detail and sheer usefulness.” One student commented, “A fine-toothed-comb edit like this is hard to find. I can’t wait to get started revising: it’s like being told the cheat to a Sonic the Hedgehog game at school and rushing home to test it out!” (Read more reviews here.)

Co-teacher Jennifer Kho is a media powerhouse, who has served as managing editor of HuffPost; and managing editor of the Guardian US. She’s currently the VP of journalism and information equity at DoGoodery, a sustainability consultancy based in Los Angeles, and the president of our partner the Journalism and Women Symposium (JAWS). She loves interviewing because it gives her a glimpse into what it’s like to be someone else and an opportunity to learn new things every day.

The team’s other instructor is Kae Lani Palmisano, an Emmy Award-Winning television host. She showcases Philadelphia’s favorite restaurants through the eyes of locals on WHYY’s Check, Please! Philly, and shares the hidden backstories of beloved foods via the digital series Delishtory, streaming now on WHYY’s YouTube and the PBS App. Kae Lani remains a big fan of broadening her story’s POVs.”For the curious conversationalist, interviewing gives us a glimpse at the world through another perspective,” she says. “The best interviews are the ones where we can connect to the heart and soul of a topic. Regardless of our knowledge of a particular topic, a great interview deeply resonates with everyone.”

Note: students need to record their practice interview using a teleconferencing app — like Zoom — or audio or video on their phone, laptop or computer.

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INTERVIEW LIKE A HONEY BADGER CURRICULUM

This class has written lectures, feedback, and chat forums. There is no fixed time requirement to be on the classroom site.

Week One: Source Plans for Stronger Pitching
How quotes can elevate your work; pitching with a source plan (even if specific interviews aren’t locked down yet); tools for finding interviewees; approaching sources directly; working with PRs, marketing folks and public information officers; connecting with authors, celebrities, experts, politicians, and people from vulnerable communities; using secondary sources

Assignment: Pitches with source plans (two letters, max 500 words total)

Week Two: Interview Prep
Research, writing questions that encourage discussion, when to tackle potentially contentious topics, considerations when interviewing sources with trauma or those from vulnerable communities

Assignment: Approaching sources (two letters, max 500 words total)

Week Three: What’s Your Interview Style?
Techniques for different genres from breaking news to Q&As, obituaries, reported essays, investigative pieces, sponsored content, covering press conferences, etc. Active listening, integrating setting and action, basics of repackaging audio and video from interviews (with the sources’ permission)

Assignment: Two submission calls (max 500 words total)

Week Four: Care and Feeding of Sources
Screening interviewees, politely recusing non-contenders, pre-interviews, advance questions, basic information to collect, softball opening questions, controlling an interview’s flow, overcoming shyness, putting people at ease, eye contact, body language, curiosity and empathy, humor, sharing and embracing vulnerability, the power of silence, making an authentic connection, confrontation and confession, recovering from gaffes, probing for details, signing off

Assignment: Preparing interview questions (max 700 words)

Week Five: The Nuts and Bolts of Interviewing
Picking the right medium, techniques (notes, shorthand, recording tools), transcriptions – when and how, legal considerations, taking conversations off the record, documentation and citation, factchecking do’s and don’ts, PR or PIO involvement during interviews

Assignment: Practice interview (max 15 minutes of audio or video)

OPTIONAL READING

The course has no requirements, but these books make great additions to any dedicated interviewer’s bookshelves.

ALUMNI REVIEWS

“Consider me a success story. I’ve already sold three ideas I explored in the workshop. Two pieces touching on personally important topics like racism, misogyny and bias against Asian-American women; and an interview with an emerging poet who writes about grief and loss through the experience of miscarriage. These are obviously very niche topics! Amanda walked me through how to write concise and effective pitches for a range of publications, opening the doors to new opportunities that I lacked the confidence to previously pursue.” — Shin Yu Pai

“Amanda’s class is the best investment I’ve made in my writing career. A former newspaper and magazine staffer, I had an inkling I could have some success with freelancing, but felt super intimidated by pitching and breaking into bigger name outlets. The course was a wealth of information, beyond just pitching, really, with resources on imposter syndrome, sourcing, the business side of freelancing, etc. And though the personalized feedback was invaluable, it was also really illuminating to learn from other students’ pitches and writing interests and Amanda’s years of experience. She was able to edit and push us to grow while being incredibly supportive and boosting the group’s confidence. Back to that great investment: Not only did some of the pitches I worked on in class lead to bylines at some of my dream outlets, such as Bon Appétit and CNN Travel, but the class also paid for itself a few times over with those commissions. I’ve continued to take the lessons learned with me, Amanda is still cheering me on and I will very likely take another course soon. Thank you! ” — Sophia Gottfried 

“I learned so much in Amanda’s class. Her lectures contain a wealth of practical, insider information helpful for the newbie as well as the experienced freelancer. The class was worthwhile for the pitch help alone — Amanda and her team provided expert, detailed feedback on six of my pitches, which amounts to only $40 per pitch!

“This isn’t just another pitch feedback class; the lessons are thorough and Amanda’s dedication to helping writers takes it to a whole new level.  She answers all your questions in detail and never leaves you feeling lost in the middle of this big bad freelancing world. If you’re struggling to get started or find yourself in a pitching rut, this might be the push you need. Thanks, Amanda!” — Sakshi Udavant

“I am an Amanda groupie. After three classes with her, my confidence as a writer has grown thanks to her encouragement and mentoring. I started to believe in my voice through her generosity, thoughtfulness and constructive feedback. Her  confidence in my abilities helped me persevere and create a framework for a query that is garnering responses like “great pitching here” from editors (and also a series of assigned stories!).” — Elena Sonnino

“I absolutely loved Amanda’s class. Not only did she give the most specific and constructive writing feedback I’ve ever received (and I spent 6+ years in graduate school), she showed us how to transfer specific comments to future projects. As a former academic, I found the class especially useful for recognizing and letting go of jargon and distilling complicated ideas into something interesting and palatable. As I work the tools I learned, I’m starting to get more takes on my queries and recently had an editor refer to one of my pitches as “one of the best” she’s seen. What a great day!” —Stacey McKenna

“Writing for several years, it was never something I made a living off of but more a hobby. Determined to change that, I took Amanda Castleman’s class. Her critiques are thorough, with insightful edits. Plus she’s kind and considerate in her critiques while helping writers get closer to landing an assignment. In the midst of the class, I even landed an assignment with Fodor’s, something I don’t think I could have done without the skill and confidence I got from Pitch Like a Honey Badger. Another excellent thing about the class is the exhaustive resources of where to pitch stories.”  — Malika Bowling

“What an amazing gift you’ve given us: personalized attention plus huge generosity in sharing practical knowledge from the trenches. Far better than courses at traditional institutions.” — Anne Anderson

Read more reviews here.

SELECT WORKS BY Amanda’S HONEY BADGER ALUMNI

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Where are the classes held?
We’ll be working on Google Classroom, a browser-based teaching platform. This allows files to be shared easily, without cluttering your inbox, and gives you classroom access from any net-wired terminal, anywhere in the world. But you’ll still have options to push alerts to email, if that appeals.

When does the bell ring?
Never! Go online whenever you please — the classroom is open 24/7.

Is there a video component or live chat?
No. The lectures, feedback and chat forums are all done in writing, so we can accommodate students traveling and living in many different time zones.

What’s with the goofy name?
We’re honoring the animal named most fearless by the Guinness Book Of World Records – and also this hilarious 2011 viral video by Randall (warning: explicit language).

Pitching can be stressful. We hope our tribute to the Honey Badger reminds you to be tenacious – and also to smile a little too.

What if I write in another genre than the instructor?
No problem at all. This workshop explores the best practices of pitching, which are universal across journalism, and draws on successful queries on a variety of topics.

Didn’t Julie Schwietert Collazo teach a class like this?
Yes! Amanda created Pitch Like A Honey Badger in 2015 and handed it off to the amazing Ms. Collazo, when she took a break from teaching. Julie is now busy captaining Immigrant Families Together, but still offers coaching and consultations via her website.

Can I travel during class?
Students — and the instructors — frequently travel during the course. The lessons and discussions remain online, and late submissions are welcome by special arrangement throughout the four-week period. The decision should hinge upon your work habits: can you work and focus well on the road? Will you have the discipline to make up assignments back home?

 Is the course suitable for experienced writers?
Absolutely. Amanda’s taught full-time journalists and professionals jumping genres or reviving skill-sets (including former staffers for Shape, The Los Angeles Times and Wall Street Journal). Pitch Like a Honey Badger usually attracts about 60-75% established freelancers, but all levels are welcome.

Can unpublished or emerging writers benefit from this workshop?
Yes. Wherever you are on the ladder, we can help you climb higher.

How much time does it take?
The time commitment varies, of course, but each week, students average 30-60 minutes to read the lecture and at least 60-90 for the assignments, plus another half hour for peer feedback. So plan for a minimum of two to three hours.

Ambitious readers can delve deep via links and articles: some study is self-guided and entirely optional.


What sort of success can I expect?
Students have published in outlets from Sunset to National Geographic and The New York Times. One had to pause, then restart the class later, because she landed so much work off the first pitches she ever sent. A handful have now won travel writing’s most prestigious prize, the Lowell Thomas, and been featured in Best Travel Writing.

But placement depends on timing, connections and marketing savvy, as much as talent. We work to boost each student up a few ladder rungs from where he or she began. For some, that’s publishing a first clip, for others breaking into A-list publications.

 I live outside the U.S. Is this a problem?
The class is entirely online with no fixed hours. All you need is a word-processing program, Internet access, a browser and a credit card. A recent session included students from Ireland, Scotland, Prague, India and New Zealand, as well as across North America; such a mix really invigorates the class. Amanda has staffed in the US and UK — and continues to work for publications around the globe. Thus she’s sensitive to Anglophone dialects and how they might affect publication-ready prose.

 I’m not sure I want to publish…
This is not the class for you, then.

Will this course help a blogger?
Yes, if you’re eager to sell work to the mainstream media. You’re welcome to work on letters negotiating ads, sponsorships, ambassadorships or fundraising, but the course material won’t focus on these topics.

What stops other writers from stealing my ideas?
The world teems with story concepts and writers often stumble across the same ones: overlap tends to be coincidence, not theft. But this workshop will inoculate you, by focusing on the stories you’re most suited to tell, and digging deep for original angles, access and sources to make them shine. Between your unique take — and the 10,000-odd English-language publications worldwide — there’s room for students to explore the same topics, working together, rather than being at odds.

Will other students steal my contacts and outlets?
No. We encourage people to pool intel, as a rising tide lifts all boats. But you’re under no obligation to divulge publication details or editors’ emails, if that doesn’t feel comfortable.

What if I have another question?
Please ask us! Email amanda@writelikeahoneybadger.com.

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