21st Century Journalism XXII: Mark NalderLast night Mark Nalder of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer was the hero of an episode of the PBS series Exposé. His vigor and expertise as an interviewer were quite an inspiration.
Anyone wanting to learn his techniques can attend one of his "Loosening Lips" workshops and/or study the handout he freely shares with all and sundry. Below is a sampling of Nalder's interviewing advice, but if you're interested in this particular skill, do read the entire handout. It's less than four pages long.
The Set Up
- INNER INTERVIEWING As a warm-up (maybe during your morning shower), imagine a successful interview. Reporters who don't believe they will get the interview or the information usually fail. As far as I'm concerned, no one should ever refuse to talk to me. It works.
- PAY ATTENTION TO DETAIL Inventory the room thoroughly and in an organized fashion. Look at the walls, read the top of the desk and study the lapel pin. You'll get clues and details for your story. Make notes on what you see.
- IT'S NO BIG DEAL Respond to the "I can't comment" by saying "You don't have to worry. Heck, you are just one of several people I've talked with. It's no big deal. Here's what I understand about the situation. Let's talk about this part a little bit . . . . (and then start talking about the information you want to confirm)." Notice that I avoid a debate over the reasons they don't want to talk with me. You'll lose that debate 9 times out of 10. Keep the conversation rolling.
- ANONYMITY Don't accept information "on background" without a fight. Even if it means going back to them several times, try to convince people to go on the record. (Absolutely "off-the-record" information is useless, since you can't use it under any circumstance. Avoid it. It's a waste of time.)
- HOW AND WHY When a person says something important, ask the key question: "How do you know that?" It sheds light on credibility, extracts more detail and is a door opener to other sources. Also, ask people why they do what they do, rather than just asking what they do.
- BE THE DIRECTOR A great interview feels like a conversation but moves relentlessly toward the information you need. Keep control, but do so gently.