Wednesday, 1 July 2009


What is about reporters and asking questions?
When I edit copy and notice there is no age/job/address for a person I naturally ask the reporter - why not?
Quick as a flash they come back with 'they didn't tell me'.
I respond 'But did you actually ask them?' and generally a bashful junior (sometimes senior) hacklet comes back with the answer ''.
Our job is to ask questions. If you don't know something ask. If you struggle to hear an answer, ask again. Ask, ask, ask. The more you ask questions, the better you get at writing stories and thinking about what your tale needs.
Some questions seem too personal or too intrusive. Ask them anyway. The more natural your questions sound, the more likely the interviewee is to answer them.
I have asked some hideously insensitive questions. I remember live on Sky TV asking a senior politician's spin doctor whether the minister was going to make it through the night after an accident. The weeping PR was forced to admit it was unlikely thus giving the whole pack that night's headlines.
Did I feel bad? Of course not. It was the question everyone wanted to know the answer to.
But someone has to ask it.
Many times I have heard journalists interview over the phone and had to scribble furious notes to push under their nose when they pussy foot around the issues.
Most of it is experience, but you need to start asking those awkward questions now.
Start with checking the spelling of every name, age, address and occupation and work your way up from there....................


  1. Thank you, this was an interesting read. I would like to ask: What do you do if someone doesn't want to tell you his/her full name or age? Do you make another attempt or use some tricks?

    From another angle, are there some techniques or best practices, which increase the chance that the person would reveal what you want?

  2. Don't phrase it as a question that has a negative answer.
    Don't say 'Can I ask your age?' Just say 'How old are you'?.
    Nine times out of ten they will give it, especially if you are confident and authoritative.
    Same with pictures. Don't ask if they want their photo taken, it's too easy to say no. Just say 'what time can I come round to take your picture'.
    There is no real reason why they should not use their full name so ask why they are refusing? I very rarely come across this situation. Try the electoral roll if they are being really silly.
    I imagine both scenarios involving elderly ladies.
    In which case - for age - ask them how old they WANT to be.
    Aways blame your boss. Tell the victim/interviewee that you will get in trouble if you don't get all the details. Never make it up, however. You will almost always get caught out!