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2012 IRE Conference Blog
How to talk your way to the truth
By Châu Mai
How do you get people to open up? How do you get the key information you're are looking for?
The first thing before we’re heading to the interview, according to Raquel Rutledge, an award-winning reporter of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, is to fully prepare and know the subject well, by googling or using familiar sources.
Rutledge, Ira Rosen, producer at 60 Minutes, and John Ferrugia, investigative reporter of KMGH-TV 7News, shared their experience and tips during “Talking your way to the truth: The art of the interview.”
To prepare for an interview, Rutledge recommended three other tips:
- To confront early, not to surprise people. That helps people feel less under attack.
- To bring documents to the interview.
- To think about the narrative from the beginning.
Before sharing the key she learned recently in doing an interview, she reminded the audience of a very basic thing: “Recording the interview.” The key for her was “actually to listen to the full interview at least a couple of times, not for a quote” but to make sure that she didn't miss key points the first time she listened. Also:
- Don’t be afraid of asking questions you think sources would never answer.
- Don’t share too much information because sources might repeat what you said.
- If you suspect the subject might lie, test their credibility by talking about something you know is true.
- Be persistent in questioning, and sensitive to your subject.
- Listen more, talk less.
Rutledge also shared her tip in dealing when getting sources to go on the record. “Give them a specific example of what you want to use from them. They are more willing to say ‘I guess that’s not too bad.”’
To wrap up the interview, she suggested some good questions to ask, like “What haven’t I asked? Or what am I missing?”
For television interviews, Rosen recommended his “blank sheet strategy.” Draw a line in the middle, and one side list “what’s the plot...what’s the value, what’s the regulation, and the other side is for what I found.” This strategy, he stressed, was very helpful when doing complex investigations involving multiple issues.
Like Rutledge, he said to always be prepared to know the subject as well or better than the person you interview. Rosen tries not to interview spokespeople or public relations people, instead interviewing decision makers on the issue.
Other tips he has applied:
- Make an evaluation to understand the process. Whether the person is a crook or simply made a mistake "is a big difference.”
- What’s the motive?
- Listen for minor facts to find a clue.
- Let people talk.
- Bring the sensibility of the audience to the interview.
Ferrugia said journalists shouldn't be afraid to ask questions.
"There is no embarrassing question, just embarrassing answers.”
Châu Mai is a graduate student at Emerson College Department of Journalism.