Posted on January 9, 2008
Better interviews: Don’t follow Mike Wallace
We are always struggling to teach young journalists how to interview better.
Successful interviews get people to go further than they planned to go, and rarely come from a planned list of questions, even when the questions are good ones. Interviewing does not work that way. It is a dynamic process involving two basic stages. Stage 1 is planned; Stage 2 exploits the moment that Stage 1 produces, whenever and however it occurs.
In this excellent article at ESPN, John Sawatsky takes Mike Wallace (of 60 Minutes) to task for his softball interviewing style. Written and posted before the interview aired on Sunday, the article predicts very well what kind of friendly, easy questions Wallace put to baseball great Roger Clemens about Clemens’s alleged use of steroids.
Then Sawatsky instructs us as to the questions Wallace (and any good journalist) should be asking. At some point, he says, Clemens should be asked about a statement he made in 2005 that he would “depend on physicians to tell me what’s OK.”
How does he explain it? Ask him exactly that question. There isn’t a yes-no option for choosing good over evil. His response will reveal tons. He will seek to preserve his credibility, and that means staying in the middle of the road, exactly where all the accidents happen. One side of the road means fessing up, which he will resist. The other side means total denial, which is not believable and makes him look a phony.
It’s a good read for any journalist.
Thanks to Fresh DV for the link.