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Jan Winburn, senior editor for enterprise for CNN Digital believes interviewing is the most neglected part of journalism. She shared her version of effective interviewing with attendees at the 2016 Ag Media Summit in St. Louis, Missouri.

Winburn says interviews should be real conversations and not just rapid-fire questions. In journalism the interview has a different goal and that is “to get a story and go to sensitive places.”

According to Winburn, there should be emotion in questions and journalists should not stay in a safe place. The journalist needs to have an element of control in an interview and ask a question again if the subject avoids answering it. Finally, journalists should ask questions of known information as well as unknown so the subject has the opportunity to inform.

Here are 12 things for consideration Winburn shared with the audience:

1. Do your research – with a theme or objective in mind

  • It helps to prioritize your questions
  • Have a vision for your story
  • For quick web story tell them you only have a few questions and get it done OR say it is a first interview and you may come back with more later

2. Questions

  • Simple, specific and grounded in research
  • Original, obvious, reflective
  • Ask same question different ways
  • Don’t overstep bounds – build up to hard questions
    • Begin with asking about family, mutual acquaintance or familiar event if you have one in common

3. Make it a conversation

  • Open ended an start with how, why what
  • Encourage subject to describe, explain and amplify
  • Keep going with a “moment” so they can keep thinking; go back to original question list later

4. Start with throwaway questions

5. Interview for anecdotes

  • Start with when – it sets a scene or moment and often unfolds a story
  • Ask for artifacts
  • See the office, even when not in person (possibly via Skype)
  • Be careful not to be so busy tweeting or posting on other social media that you don’t observe the scene; maintain situational awareness
  • “Interviewing is like dancing – they choose the music, but you lead”
  • Smile when you are talking, even on the phone

6. Ask about feelings and thoughts, but don’t prescribe them

  • Use “tell me about”
  • Don’t tell them what they feel based on assumptions
  • Ex – I know you are upset, but

7. Silence is golden

  • Ask a question and let them answer, then wait a few seconds; they will usually say more
  • For a closing question: another way to say “what else do you want to add” is “Was there anything I didn’t ask, should have asked, etc.”

8. Record the interview

  • To get it 100% accurate
  • Allows for conversation and you to focus on subject
  • Reduce fear of misquoting
  • Can use to analyze your own skills

9. Tough questions: just ask them at the right time

10. Look around and observe

  • A person’s environment speaks volumes
  • Actions speak louder than words especially for political issues
  • What is/was cause

11. Don’t forget whimsy; it is a necessary part of life

12. Listen with an empathetic ear

Comments from Q&A part of session

Confront the talking points person     Ex – let’s talk about that later and then ask your direct question again

When interviewing someone after traumatic experience:

  • DartCenter.org is a suggested website for information on how to interview a subject of trauma
  • Direct questions around progress to overcome
  • Have someone at the interview as a third party person that could answer for them

Bridge back to “a moment” by admitting your mistake
    Ex – “I want to go back to something” or “I got ahead...”

CNN Editor Shares Interviewing Tips (10 KB pdf)