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Exercise 4-1.5
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Interviews > Developing no-wiggle interview questions


Journalists have different opinions about how to start an interview. Some like to warm up their sources by engaging in small talk or by going over the basics, like the spellings of names and titles. Others feel this wastes a source's time and prefer just getting straight to business. Eventually you need to get to the point, and when you do, you want your source to take your questions seriously. One trick for making this happen is to preplan your questions, explicitly incorporating background information into the structure of those questions.

Instead of saying, "Mayor Jones, how do you explain your recent decision to seek an increase in the city's sales tax," say, "Mayor Jones, in a June 1992 speech to the Hampshire Rotary Club, you said, 'I swear I will never back a sales tax increase.' A decade later you were quoted by the San Diego Union-Tribune as saying, 'If I ever back a sales tax increase, you should consider me a con and run me out of office.' Now, you're asking voters to approve what your own budget analyst says amounts to the biggest sales tax increase in city history. Mayor Jones, how do you explain your change of heart?"

Although time-consuming, this strategy has one clear advantage: Showing that you've done your background research almost always makes your source take you seriously — and that can be priceless for a novice reporter.

Read the transcript of the speech by Vice President Al Gore below. Assuming you had the chance to conduct an interview with him the day after the speech, develop interview questions that explicitly cite background information.

Al Gore Speech (32.0K)

Note: Your instructor may have a different scenario and set of background material for you to use. It's often effective to use this question-building technique to prepare for an in-class press conference.

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