Asking the right questions

Boring interviews create boring stories. At the same time, exciting interviews can completely change the trajectory of a story. The session hit on how to approach different sources, whether they are controversial, shy, rude or just boring. Everyone has a story to tell, they just need to be asked the right questions, “Interviews to make your mama blush (and other hard-core, possibly unethical, maybe illegal advice),” provided 50 tips for asking all the right questions. These are the ones I remember and find most helpful.

  1. Quit being boring. People don’t want to talk to boring people.
  2. Be obsessive. Be competitive. Be curious. Be fearless.
  3. If you can’t be fearless, be an actor and act fearless.
  4. Don’t ask permission to do stories. Assume you already have permission.
  5. Learn from the greats.
  6. Talk to the little people. They’re bitter and underappreciated. They’ll rat out their snobby bosses.
  7. Give sources a chance to share their stories, but don’t let them change it.
  8. Allow time for people to expose vulnerability.
  9. Distance yourself from the pack. Seek out the people really affected by the issue.

10. Be an expert on everything or be able to fake it for an hour.

11. Exploit the Internet for stories.

12. Sneak around online.

13. Ask personal questions. Be rude. What’s the worst that can happen?

14. Two key questions are, “What do you mean by that?” and “What are some examples?”

15. Get up in their grill.

16. If you’re out of our element, don’t be afraid to ask people with more experience.

17. There’s no crying in interviewing… by you.

18. Question authority.

19. Be a psychologist. What makes your source tick?

20. Don’t allow quote approval. It’s censorship.

21. Ask questions that regular folks would ask.

22. Use your big person voice.

23. Cultivate a reputation for being unconventional and controversial.

24. Always interview for front page-worthy content.

25. Take no pity on administrators or student governments.

26. Know your open records and open media laws.

27. There’s nothing wrong with being an antagonizing troublemaker.

28. Hard people deserve hard questions.

29. Play GIN (Grovel if necessary).

30. Some people should fear you.

31. The more you interview, the better you get.

Katy Canada


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