Day 23: Mastering the art of interviewing

Mastering the art of interviewingSam Waterston is one of my favorite actors of the Law and Order television series. His character Jack McCoy, the determined prosecutor, often lets his emotions and personal views drive his courtroom behavior.

In the series, Lady Justice often “peeks through her blindfold” and creates a difficult situation in the hearings. Though he usually maintains his composure, McCoy sometimes employs a “bully” technique to get the answers he desires.

All too often I have seen reporters use this same tactic. Sometimes it works, but at what expense? Being forceful with an interviewee compromises journalistic standards because it tricks the subject into giving a skewed response. There is a defined boundary between asking the hard questions and being intimidating.

Today I was able to learn about interviewing for specific types of stories that require tough questions.

My mentor, David Schechter, was working on a story about a lawsuit filed against Texas Instruments for a chemical release in the 1980s. The neighboring community has since filed suit against the company, claiming personal harm from the released chemicals. According to their claim, a local water source was contaminated by the release.

Today we were interviewing a spokeswoman for Texas Instruments concerning the lawsuit. David’s questions were fair, yet tough. He asked questions concerning the neighborhood’s claims, as well as steps taken by the company to correct the situation. He later plans to interview a representative of the neighborhood concerning their claims.

David told me that no matter which side of the story you may agree or disagree with, you must be fair to both. Even if you believe you have the opportunity to prove one party wrong, it is important to remember that it is not your responsibility. You must present all of the facts in such a way that the viewer can decide on their own.

We then covered an upcoming story about area gas stations that short change their customers at the pump. A state inspector checks gasoline pumps to make sure they dispense the correct amount for what is being charged. It is important to note, however, that some of these cases are due to normal wear and tear on the machinery.

David wanted to find out if some of the filling stations that failed the inspection were purposely shortchanging customers. He approached the owner of a gas station and presented the evidence from the state investigator — an inherently awkward moment.

David said many reporters are rude or threatening in this type of story, but it’s not his style. He believes in being firm, but polite and level-headed.

It was interesting watching the conversation evolve. The owner was very eager to speak with David, which is surprising because often times people become tight-lipped.

The news about the pump inspections came as no surprise for the owner. In fact, he had recently put an order in for new equipment to correct the calibration defect.

More weather coverage to report today. We’re in almost one month straight of flood watch/warnings.

On another note, a massive fire in a downtown warehouse draped the skyline in thick smoke. The ventilation system at WFAA actually had to be shut off over employee health concerns.

The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the corporation and employees of WFAA-TV, Belo Corp., or Northwestern State University. They are solely the opinion of the author. All content © Copyright 2007 Lane Luckie

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