Thursday, December 10, 2009

The follow-up question: a dying art

Someone, and I don't remember who, once said, "There are those who listen and there are those who wait to speak."

That's a terrific way to describe husbands and an awful lot of reporters. Very often if you don't listen, you miss the opportunity for the best sound bite of the interview.

The problem with a lot of young reporters is that they head out to an interview with a list of questions. Then they'll sit down, ask question number one, and without even paying attention to what the interview subject is saying, get ready with question number two. So they end up missing really good stuff.


Reporter: "So what's your take on health care?"

Congressman: "Well, I'm in favor of it. At least the space alien who inhabits my body is."

Reporter: "Do you favor the public option?"

Okay, that's an extreme example of a reporter not paying attention, but this kind of stuff happens all the time, especially on some on the interview shows with young hosts. The Sunday morning hosts don't let this kind of stuff slip by, but during the
week it's pretty common on cable talk shows.

Look, if you've got your questions written down, they're not going anywhere. You can ask them any time. You don't have to pay attention to your note pad. Ask the question, and really listen to what is being said. Very often you might pick something up that's very subtle, but it can take your interview in a different direction and give you a big story.

And when the person being interviewed stops talking, you don't have to start. Remember that great tip given to me by a network anchor about interviewing politicians; they love the sound of their own voices and can't stand dead air. If you just sit there and say nothing after their stock answer, they'll keep talking, and very often say something worthwhile.

It's okay to write down your questions and if you don't it's always a good idea to have an idea of what you're going to ask before you head out to an interview. Just don't forget that the most important part of the interview is the answer, not your question.


turdpolisher said...

and always ask your photog if he has any questions. they almost always come away with the soundbite of the story. folks always feel like they have to dumb things down for us. and it's always interesting.

-The Grape said...

Very good point. Photogs have gotten me some great bites over the years.