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Strategizing for the big interview. …

Strategizing for the big interview.
Investigative Reporters & Editors Orlando Conference 2011

Investigative Reporter Deborah Sherman
Deborah.Sherman@9NEWS.com

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  • --I frequently talk to detectives, lawyers, great producers like Steve Eckert of Dateline, editors like Mark Ketches and other journalists about their interviewing techniques, which is how I’ve come up with this style.
  • THE BEST INTERVIEWS happen when you’re well prepared. BRAINSTORM: get a team together. Anybody. Everybody. No value judgements, just throw down ideas. Decide what you want the public to take from the interview--in the case of a story we did earlier this year, we decided the public should know that the Broomfield police department has lost property and evidence in its property room(brainstorm: have any cases been affected by the lost evidence in serious cases, felonies ((pull every court case and review them)) what kind of critical evidence was lost, how should evidence be kept, who is supposed to oversee/monitor/regulate property rooms, will former employees who used to keep track of the evidence room talk, get performance reviews of those working there now along with salary information, how long has it been happening, how is evidence elsewhere kept elsewhere, etc. From there, you then make a big to do list.
  • --In complicated or long-term stories, like terrorism in this case—we use a techique that cops use to solve crimes. Flowcharts.We literally make a diagram on a wipe board behind us, with pictures if possible, and write down critical facts underneath it: dates of birth, address, phone, involvement, background checks, financial information, everything—and then we draw new connections between people as we find them. **this is not only a great tool to use for investigative and complicated stories but also in breaking news.With one look, you can easily understand the whole story.
  • Story about prostitution ring and which government officials may be on the client list.Working for the last two weeks. Flow chart shows everyone immediately who is whoCritical data underneath shows which record checks have been completed and which still need to be done.
  • AFTER YOU’VE DONE ALL THE RESEARCH….prepare for interview(think about what you want from the interview. An emotional response? Do you want news out of it? To show a character? A moment where you reveal them as a liar? For a story about people pretending to be fake evacuees from the Gulf coast and getting free money and housing, first we let them spin their tales of fleeing Hurricane Katrina before we revealed we had records showing they’d lived in Colorado their whole lives. Think about how you’re going to tell the story first, it will help you design your questions. In this story, I thought it was going to be a straight interview. I should have also been prepared if the police chief lied to us about their lost evidence. We assumed he knew we had all of the internal memos since we had previously pulled every single court case that was affected by the lost evidence. Instead of a straight informational interview, he began denying everything and I found myself laying out evidence before him and it became confrontational. I think it could have been a better interview if I had known, or guessed, that he was going to deny it all.MAKE ONE LINE STATEMENTS, otherwise called, “get to the point” statements: what do you want the public to know/take away at the end of the story. Keep it simple. Usually three subjects works for TV, but I often add a couple more statements to include in my web and print stories and for follow-up stories.When you create the one-line statements—Just go for the gold. Leave the lesser/unclear points out of the interview…unless the person agrees to sit there for an hour and answer every last question you have. But first, get the gold. Questions that will answer your one-line statements.Consider each of these statements as “chapters” in your story. Put them in order of importance for your interview“Broomfield lost critical crime evidence” “Broomfield hid its problem from the prosecutors and the public.”“Broomfield didn’t discipline those responsible; in fact they got raises”Etc.
  • Then, write questions for each chapter or subject. Make sure that each question establishes the “one line statement” you’re proving. Ask one fact per questionImagine the possible answersThen write a follow-up question to those possible answers.Line up documents for each questions as proof if they deny or lieOnce you are done, look over the questions and shorten them. Make sure they’re short and clear. Steve Eckert of Dateline likes to ask a summary question that captures the heart of story. And I like to always ask the “so, what you’re saying is…” question to make sure that I’m getting exactly what they’re eluding to, but not outright saying. In this story, “so what you're saying is, you have no idea if the evidence and property was lost or stolen?” OR ask…does that mean that you have no idea if the guns and cash were lost or stolen?…
  • Broomfield evidence story
  • -get all sides: do criminal background checks on everyone involved. Especially the so-called “good guys”. You don’t want to learn later that your good guy has filed multiple lawsuits, made political contributions or made crazy allegations in the past. Make sure your witness/expert is solid. -avoid cliché’s. The question we always hear during a perp walk is “did you do it?”. Which is fine, but old. And I’ve never ever heard anyone answer it. An investigative reporter on our team, kyle clark, while looking into a pedofile situation, only had got question during a perp walk. Instead of asking the suspect about the current case, kyle asked him about an old case that was dismissed, where the man allegedly molested another child. kyle asked, “do you remember jimmy smith?” the suspect, surprised, lunged at him.-think of opposite questions: if you are out to show that someone is paid too much, ask the most opposite question you can think of, which might do you deserve a raise? Are you paid enough for this job? Playing up to their own beliefs can be very interesting. -listen.Listen to what they’re NOT saying as much as what they are saying. What did they just leave out of that answer? How come they answered it in that way. What are they talking around?If they answer questions out of order, go with it. When interviewing an elderly couple that probably had dementia. I stuck to script and it was terrible. Back to this…I said 50 times. -Wrap up with. When you ask “is there anything else.” often times, the answer is no. Instead ask, “what else”. Ok, great. What else? What else?
  • -study your question list so well that you can set it aside. investigative reporter jacelarson had a really good confrontation because he had memorized his questions—but still listened--. Here’s a brief look at that with a man who allegedly stole more than a million bucks from local folks. ____________
  • Travisforbes confrontation***also, we were looking for a man who was last seen with a teenager who has vanished. We didn’t expect to find him because he’s homeless now. We went to all of his old addresses, talked to his neighbors, learned that he sells granola bars, visited stores, called manufacturers, which led us to a bakery and while we were interviewing his old boss, she leaned in and whispered, “he’s right behind you.” Had we not prepared some questions in case we found him, the interview would not have been as compelling.
  • Kyle clark fair manager example-Be present: kyle was asking a worker at a fair about who decided to make all of the handicapped parking spaces VIP for all of the important people in Denver, so that the handicapped had to park really far away. The worker kept blaming everything on the manager. This is just a snippet of the interview, where kyle was really listening and thinking.

Transcript

  • 1. Strategies for the investigative interviewire Orlando 2011
    Deborah Sherman
    KUSA-TV, Denver
    Deborah.Sherman@9NEWS.COM
    Website: http://www.slideshare.net/DeborahSherman
  • 2. Brainstorm ideas: Broomfield lost Evidence
  • 3. BREAKING NEWS/COMPLICATED STORIES (Terrorism)
  • 4. Recent story FLOWCHART
  • 5. MAKE ONE LINE STATEMENTS
  • 6. Write questions for each “chapter”.(ex. Broomfield lost critical evidence”
  • 7.
  • 8. techniques
    Be tough, be nice, be fair.
    Get all sides.
    Don’t be cliché. Be real and unique.
    Think of and ask opposite questions
    Listen. Be quiet.
    If someone goes out of order of your questions, go with it. Don’t stick with script.
    Don’t wrap up with “Is there anything else?” Instead, ask “What else?”
  • 9.
    • Study your question list. Know it, set it aside.
  • 10.
    • Listen. Be present.