Adapted from “What Questions Do We Ask” by Carol Hallenbeck, Practical Ideas For Teaching Journalism
Journalists Ask Questions
• What is the team going to do to get ready
for the big game, coach?
• Why did the school board make that
• How do you think this new program will
benefit the French department, Madame
Research the topic
before the interview
• Make sure to get to know the person or the
topic before the interview.
Prepare questions ahead of time
• Make sure to make a list of questions ahead of
• These questions should not be able to be answered
with a simple “yes” or “no.”
• Write questions that make the interviewee answer
with a statement. This will yield better quotes.
• Get as many specific details as possible.
• Remember that an interview is a conversation.
• Make sure your questions are specific and short.
At the interview
• Be on time
– Remember, you are taking their time.
• Be patient
– Make sure the person has finished
answering a question before going to the
• Be flexible
– Be ready to change your line of
interviewing if the person has more
interesting things to say.
…at the interview
• Be quiet
– You want the person you are interviewing to
do most of the talking
• Be smart
– Ask the tough questions last. That way, if the
person refuses to answer, at least you will
have all of the other information you need
• Be polite
– Remember to say “Thank You.”
Type of Questions
• Always have a list of questions prepared
• Don’t be afraid to stray from your prepared
questions if the person starts talking about
other interesting items.
• A beginning question or remark to start the
interview in a non-threatening manner
– Comment on the weather
– Comment on something in the office
– Comment on something of interest to the
– MOST IMPORTANT: Gain their trust of your
thoroughness, by asking for the spelling of
their name and double-checking you wrote
it down correctly.
First Step Question
• Address the topic of the interview
– Reporter: “When I made the appointment, I
said that I wanted to ask you about the
preparations the Trivia Team is making for
Saturday’s competition. Would you tell me
exactly what you are doing?”
• How qualified is the source?
• Reporter: “Mrs. Biblioteca, how many
years have you been the sponsor?”
Routine Factual Questions
• Ask the basics…
• The Who, What, Why, When, Where, and
• What is trivia, who are the members, etc.
• Numerical questions provide statistical
• How many years has the school competed?
How many times has the school won?
Open-Ended Question Openers
What do you think…
Why do you think…
How do you feel about…
Tell me about…
Most Critical Step: Listen
• Good interviewers are good __________
• Listen for the pearls and diamonds
• Ask a “responder” to find out more
Would you explain what you mean?
Can you give me an example?
• Don’t be afraid to ask, “Do I have this
• NEVER promise to let anyone review your
story in advance.
• Get the stories that show the source and
cohorts in action
• Ask directly: What is the most exciting
moment your remember in a Trivia Team
match? Did any of your players do
anything dumb? Was there a time when
you substituted a player whose substitution
won or lost the game?
• Ask questions that you think of on the spur
of the moment based on what the
• Often redirect the interview. Ask
something you thought of because of a
• “Do your team members carry good luck
charms?” “Why do you believe there are
no girls on the academic team?”
• Remember to take good notes or tape record the
• Pay attention to the answers you are given.
• Don’t be afraid to ask the subject to repeat or
• Find a quiet place to conduct the interview.
• Make sure to ask how to spell the person’s name.
• Make sure to listen intently.
Conclude the Interview
• Thank the source for his/her time.
• Ask if you can check back if you have any
• Invite the interviewee to call you if they
find they have more to say.
• Collect phone numbers, e-mail addresses,
etc. and leave yours.
“Off the Record”
• If the source tells a reporter that what s/he is about
to say is “off the record,” this means the source
does not want the information printed. If the
reporter listens to the information, s/he is bound
by reporter’s ethics not to publish it.
• To relieve yourself of responsibility, say “If I
cannot print it, please do not give me the
• If you do listen to it, you may try to find someone
who does want it printed.
• If the source says “No comment,” this
means s/he will not answer the question.
• Why s/he won’t talk is of interest.
• Reporters must rely on information from
elsewhere to make the story happen.