A little good reading for tomorrow

If you’re reading announcements in Canvas, you’ve already learned that Leonard Pitts had to cancel and won’t be coming to class tomorrow.

I had scheduled magazine faculty member Ron Stodghill to come on Thursday, and he has graciously agreed to come tomorrow, instead.

Good sport that he is, Ron is going to sit in the hot seat as you interview him — you, as in, the entire class (hive mind-style) — but you need to read three short things BEFORE tomorrow’s class. It won’t take long.

Please read 1) this column that Ron wrote in the fall of 2015 about growing up in Detroit and 2) this one about his personal experience of racism as a student at MU.

Be prepared to ask Ron questions about his career. Read what the J-School’s website says about him as you prepare for tomorrow’s interviewing exercise.

It’s the first of the rules of interviewing: PREPARE, PREPARE, PREPARE! (Read the clips, Google widely, explore social media and gather background on your subject.)

OTHERS (some are mine, others are from Poynter):

  1. Be sure your interview subject understands who you are, what you’re doing and has a pretty good sense of the story you’re doing. (Don’t assume all people understand what journalism is/what journalists do.) It’s about transparency.
  2. Even if you record the interview, back it up with note-taking. You never know when technology will fail you.
  3. Create a list of questions in the general order you want to ask them. It usually works better to save the tougher questions until the end.
  4. During the interview, do not be tied to your list of questions. LISTEN WITH EVERY FIBER OF YOUR BEING. LISTEN ‘TIL YOU SWEAT.  Make eye contact, nod your head, lean forward and take notes (but not necessarily on what the person is saying; sometimes you can appear to be taking notes on your subject when you’re taking the opportunity to catch up, or write down an observation).


  5. Ask the interview subject to slow down or say something again, if necessary.

    As soon as you can after the interview, look at your notes while your memory is fresh. Fill in with what else you remember.


    Mark your notes with stars or arrows or instructions like, “possible ending.”


    Use all of your sense. Remember to use your phone as a notebook.


    Be polite and respectful, even when people are difficult or say mean things. But don’t be a doormat. People have no right to be inappropriate or verbally abusive.


    Arrive early to check out the scene; stay late when you can.


    Use the accuracy check (AC) to ask follow-up questions, clarify and double-check names, titles and ages.

    A few other tips:

    Don’t ask multi-part questions; people can’t remember all the parts and will usually just answer one (and it might not be the most important one, but that’s on you.)

    Know when to ask an open-ended question and when you need a simple yes or no answer.

    Let silence happen because it sometimes gives people time to think about what they really want to say. In situations that might benefit from making the interview subject a little uneasy, the silence might prompt an answer.

AND REMEMBER: The most important and useful question is often “Can you think of an example of that?” Or you might just say, “Tell me more about that.” This is where anecdotes come from, and where you have anecdotes, you have scenes. They bring news “articles” to life.

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