News Worksheet 4: Writing Professional Interview Questions

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Respect.  It’s what you want sources to give you when you interview them.  Otherwise, they might not feel obliged to answer your questions; they might talk about their own agenda, rather than your agenda.  For a high school student, the challenge is especially daunting because, in general, adults don’t give minors much respect. This exercise is designed to teach you how to ask questions in a way that is sure to make your sources pause, look you over with a raised eyebrow, and give you — you guessed it — respect.

 

The key is to show that you’ve done your homework.  Luckily, that’s exactly what you’ve done. You have an extensive linkography dossier about your subject; now, all you need to do is dig down into that goldmine of information, pick out some key, newsworthy nuggets — and embed those nuggets into your questions.

 

So, instead of saying this:

 

“Mayor Cohen, how do you explain your recent decision to support the development of a minor league baseball park within city limits?”

 

Instead you’ll end up say something like this:

 

“Mayor Cohen, in a May 2008 speech to the Springfield High School Booster Club, a transcript of which appeared in the club’s newswletter, you said, ‘Over my dead body will I ever support a sports stadium within this city’s limits.’  Last week, you were quoted on Page 4 of the Springfield Argus as saying, ‘It is my great pleasure to welcome the proposal for a new baseball park on city land.’ How do you explain what many observers see as a contradiction between these two positions?”


What’s the essential difference between these two approaches?  The second one precedes the question by explicitly citing relevant background research.  When you craft questions this way, people have to take you seriously. They have to give you respect.

 

Now it’s your turn. Spend some time review your background notes (your linkography) on your press conferee.  What are the most interesting, most newsworthy nuggets?  (Remember: You need to focus on NEWSWORTHY nuggets, so no questions about why he/she got into politics, or what he/she recommends for a young person starting out in education today.)  Focus on angles that you can imagine growing into headlines, something like “Cohen calls for new tax on scooters,” or  “Cohen: ‘Class-size reduction ain’t gonna happen” or “Cohen flipflops again on stadium plan.”

 

Got it?  Now turn this page over and write three surefire, background-embedded questions that are going to give you some respect — and a darned good news story!

 

(Need more convincing that this is the formula professional reporters use for asking questions?  Review this presidential press conference, paying close attention to the questions: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/remarks-president-gulf-oil-spill)

Write your three questions here:

A.               _______________________________________________________________________

            _______________________________________________________________________

            _______________________________________________________________________

            _______________________________________________________________________

 

 

B.             _______________________________________________________________________

            _______________________________________________________________________

            _______________________________________________________________________

            _______________________________________________________________________

 

C.               _______________________________________________________________________

            _______________________________________________________________________

            _______________________________________________________________________

            _______________________________________________________________________

 

Self-check:

 

  • Have you explicitly embedded background research into each of your questions, citing specific dates for all of the information you include?
  • Are your questions designed to get comments that will be newsworthy?
  • Are your questions phrased tactfully?
  • Are your questions phrased concisely?

 



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