How to make it through a tough interview without feeling terrible about yourself afterwards

Tough Interview? You Can Do It!

David Simpson – 9-9:50 a.m., Sunday

On Sunday morning, I sat down in one session on covering Jay-Z and Beyoncé only to run out at the last second after re-reading this description. I’m kind of a weird journalist because, as confident as I am about my writing, when it comes to interviews and questions, I tend to waffle, much like I did when choosing this session. If someone doesn’t answer my question, I rarely pry and try to stay on the source’s good side because I hate, hate more than anything, to alienate sources. So when I saw that a former Associated Press assistant bureau chief wanted to help students out with that, I bolted to the session as if it had functional Wi-Fi (one of the few pitfalls of the first day of this convention).

David Simpson spoke on asking the right questions in different situations. For example, he talked about important questions to ask someone on Twitter when you’re clarifying that an event happened: “How do you know that?” or to ask a PR person who won’t answer a question directly: “Is that fact or opinion?” and “Why won’t you answer the question?”

Simpson had many other tips for making tough interviews easier.

  • He suggested asking for a story chronologically to turn up errors of logic.
  • He noted that PR people should be easy to talk to because they need this positive relationship as well, but you owe them a professional attitude, clear questions and a “no surprises” policy of not trying to catch them completely off-guard.
  • Simpson said that it is okay to ask stupid questions. “It’s fine if they think you’re an idiot.” He also said, because of this, to stop worrying about your next question in interviews.
  • If someone says a question is unfair, ask him/her why.
  • Keep a timeline of when you called and emailed a source, and if that source does not respond, you may publish the timeline.
  • For grief interviews:
    • Even though it’s not enough, always say “I’m sorry for your loss.”
    • If someone is having trouble talking about something, say something absurdly obvious like “Are you having trouble talking about this? Why?”
    • Give a person time and never demand an interview.
    • A source can say no at any point and pull the whole interview, even if you’ve written the whole story.
    • Be prepared and do your research.

“The goal of your interview should not be to get good quotes. Your goal is to get the story. If you’re busy trying to get quotes, you don’t listen well. You’re too busy thinking.” – David Simpson

Overall, this session was beneficial for anyone like me who gets nervous asking tough questions. I’m hoping maybe some interviews will be a bit easier from now on because I know now, from what Simpson has said, it doesn’t make me any less of a person if my source doesn’t like me. I don’t need to be fearless but I need to fear less. I just have to reaffirm myself like Stuart Smalley might: “I’m Good Enough, I’m Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me!”

– Mary Kate Brogan


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