As journalists, our job is not to simply ask questions–but to ask the ones that get original comments and insights that inform the reader! While I don’t cover many topics that are controversial and don’t have to ask gripping questions, I like to throw out a question or two during an interview that my source may not have heard. As such, I get answers that other publications may not be receiving, which gives my work a different angle. Editors love that.
While some organizations only want the news, you may add value to it by asking a question that other reporters may not think to bring up.
Here are a few questions that I try to include during interviews.
- What surprised you about this? Sometimes we get so wrapped up covering the who/what/when/where/why of things that we forget to prompt our source to give their personal opinion. Instead of inquiring about what the source thinks, ask them what surprised them about something. I love doing this for medical studies because an author likely knows what the outcome of an experiment will be, but you may get more insight into why findings should matter for a reader if you can tell them what surprised the expert. You can also use other feelings in place of “surprised” for other topics, such as “What angered you about this?” or “What pleased you most about this?”
- What is the media getting wrong in the coverage about this? I love this one because it gives you a chance to get it right. This can be a huge win because some sources have been interviewed multiple times and see inaccurate articles being posted with their comments referenced or taken out of context. They may be reluctant to share with you because you’re “the media.” When I can come in and “clean up the mess,” I please the source and the publication I’m writing for.
- What don’t you want people to take from this? We often ask sources to explain something or share how they feel about it. This doesn’t let the source speak to the reader who may not be fully comprehending the story or the ramifications of the news. This question addresses it!
- What does this mean for people? Got a source that can’t quite seem to break technical information down in layman’s terms? Note the audience of your article and ask the source what it means for that specific group of people. When I write consumer health news, I talk to a lot of researchers and doctors who are wrapped up in the findings and may not be able to translate the details into valuable information for consumers. This question helps you target your audience and get your source to speak to them directly.
- Anything you want to add off the record? While I’m all about getting the best comment to quote, sometimes you may understand the perspective of an issue by asking for information off the record. Not only can it help you understand an issue or action taken (or not taken), but it can give you insight to prompt another source who will speak about something on the record. It can also lead you to another story idea!
Kristen Fischer is a copywriter and journalist living at the Jersey Shore. She worked as a reporter and copyeditor for Gannett before launching her full-time freelance business in 2005. Her work has been published in Parents, New Jersey Monthly, Prevention, Woman’s Day, SheKnows, and Healthline.