We wanted to get to know Kristen Fischer (NAIWE’s Journalism Expert) better, so last month we sat down with her. Here is what she shared with us.
What types of questions add to the story?
Personally, I approach every story as if another outlet is covering it, because that’s likely happening. I’m always on the lookout for a different quote or a different angle to explore in addition to that main news. For me, questions that add to a story go beyond the who-what-when-where-why. Depending on the story, the type of story (say, feature versus exclusive breaking news), and the audience, questions that add to the story always dig a little deeper. And you have to do so in a way that doesn’t cause the source to clam up, so you have to build that objectivity and trust, and avoid being accusatory. That’s why I often go beyond the “why do” to “why don’t” types of questions. That prompts the source to give you more information and really explain it in a way that gives the reader the whole picture. It’s hard to give a specific question, but I believe that by being aware of the different kinds of questions we can ask, it will give reporters an edge.
What are some types of open-ended questions?
I like to ask “what does that look like” to get the source defining what we can expect–other than “we’ll see” or “it’ll be good or bad.” It forces them to give more detail. Then if they do, you can go from there with any additional questions. I also like to ask sources to explain something to me like a layperson if something is confusing, so they explain things and both I and the reader understand the point they are trying to convey. I like to ask “what’s next” in certain cases so the source may speculate on the implications of a news development–that’s the kind of digging that takes my story a step further and sets it apart from the competition. I rarely ask a yes/no question.
Is there a situation when a yes-or-no question works best?
Yes, definitely. Though I rarely ask them (or rarely only ask a yes-or-no question), these questions are great when you want a source’s stance on something and they are not being clear. Make your question clear and you may get that yes-or-no answer that in many cases gets a source to go on the record with their stance on something. Otherwise, yes-or-no questions don’t lead into much of a response. There’s definitely a type of story that they are imperative, and in other stories, they’re not as relevant. You have to know when to ask a yes-or-no question, in terms of thinking of the primary objective of your article. If it’s to get a lawmaker to state their stance on something, it certainly fits. But I think we owe it to readers to go beyond that and understand the sources reasoning for that response as well.
Journalists have to guide an interview, and how they do it can make or break a story. In this webinar, we’ll explore different tactics for asking questions that receive more open responses, and produce better sound bites. Come prepared with one example of a great question you’ve asked in the past, and one that you thought was great yet fell flat.
You can join in this conversation on April 14, at 10 am eastern, when NAIWE will host a discussion on asking better interview questions. The cost for NAIWE members is only $10! Non-members can join for $30. Register today!