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Have news and sports interviewers gotten lazy with their questions?   Every time I hear  “Tell me how it feels…?” as the lead question, I think the interviewer has not prepared.  It is such a general, lazy question.

Better sports questions would be ones that relate specifically to the situation for which they are interviewing the person. For baseball,  “When you were down 1-2, what kind of pitch were you looking for?”  “Did you go up looking for an opposite field hit?” “How did you change your approach seeing him for the second time?”

High level political journalists have usually done their homework and ask questions with followups to drill through the wishy-washy no-answer responses or clarify to viewers that the question is being avoided.

Good questions add credibility to the questioner and the source by giving the viewer insights they may not have otherwise gotten.

The soft questions may ingratiate the journalist to the source making it easier to access them for additional questions and more air time.  Witness how Trump favours easy questioners from politically aligned media – which is a little more blatant than usual.

I interviewed the Canadian Figure Skating team, one by one, at their training camp back in the day when they were on top, holding many world titles and podium positions.  I was part of their media preparations as a friendly interviewer.  I was also gathering recording content for a series of radio commercials for the Royal Bank of Canada.

Here are some lessons I learned about doing interviews:

  • Prepare carefully.  Become familiar with the background of the person and the issues they face.
  • Keep the questions open-ended but directed to the area you want to cover. The interviewer is not the star and should be unobtrusive.
  • Establish a relationship with the person conducive to obtaining information. This can be done off-line on introduction to relax the person.
  • Ask questions that are relevant to your source and that induce the source to talk.  Try to obtain information on a theme you have in mind in advance.
  • Listen and watch attentively.  Great reporters are great listeners.  Note what is said, how it is said and what is not said. Change direction accordingly.
  • Help the source along with segues to push the source to delve deeper, such as, “you say you were confused at that point…”  Let the silence hang and prompt a response. Often you just need to repeat the last phrase the source just said, as a psychiatrist does.

I do recall one young skater who was interviewing for the first time.  She kept giving me one word answers and I had keep coaxing her to continue.  It was a tough job to edit together a 60 second segment that was interesting.

As to the quality of sports interviews these days – my friend, the broadcaster, says it is a lack of funds to attract better journalists.  It is a tough world out there for the media with all the fragmentation reducing revenues.  We feel for you… now how does that feel?

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