Interviewing Essentials Day 1: Interviewing is like playing music

Long time no blog, right? Well, my semester is about to get a bit busier with another class added to my schedule. Interviewing Essentials (Journalism 4148) is a new course being offered this semester, and I’m in the second rotation of it. It’s taught by Jacqui Banaszynski — I’m set on learning to spell her last name right without looking at my schedule by the end of the semester — the writer who forever changed the meaning of journalism for me.

A little bit about Jacqui: she’s a tough cookie. She’s been a reporter for 23 years, she says, but I’m not sure if that includes her years as an editor and professor. Her story “AIDS In The Heartland” was what made journalism click for me when I read it a year and a half ago. It’s also what got her a Pulitzer Prize.

Simply put: I’m starstruck by her.

And now I have her as an actual professor, not just a guest lecturer in my News Reporting class! Since enrolling in the Missouri School of Journalism, I’ve wanted to take a class on interviewing skills because, of all the tools related to reporting, knowing how to talk to different types of sources has always been a weakness for me. The fact that Jacqui teaches it makes it even better. This is the woman who has been on all seven continents (she’s traveled to Antarctica several times to interview dogsledders and the occasional penguin) and wrote parts of Telling True Stories, a book all writers — both fiction and nonfiction — should keep in their arsenal.

Wait…I promised myself I wouldn’t turn this post into a Jacqui-praising session. Too late, I guess.

Anyway, because there are only 60 of us lucky enough to enroll in the class this semester, I’ll share some of the best lessons here on my blog. There’s no substitute for the deep discussions we have or the insight and anecdotes Jacqui shares, but I can do my best to document the main points.

Journalism friends, take note. Non-journalism friends, this isn’t just a class on interviewing. It’s a class on communication. Also take note because maybe if we all kept some of this information in mind, we’d talk (and, more importantly, LISTEN) to each other better.

Day One: An Introduction to the Whole Idea of Interviewing

At base I see journalism as a craft, but we can make it an art. -Jacqui Banaszynski

Interviewing is like playing music. There are several purposes of interviewing, like getting quotes/soundbites, tapping experts for background knowledge, getting anecdotes, taking a trip in someone else’s shoes, developing relationships with sources, etc., just like there are several types of music. Playing Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” requires a type of finesse similar to the gentle way you go about talking to a family of a deceased soldier or child. To belt out a Joan-Jett-style rock ‘n’ roll riff, you need to have a won’t-back-down attitude, much like when standing up to a politician you know is trying to pull the wool over your eyes.

There are many things to know about interviewing before jumping in, but the most important is to LISTEN. Active listening gets you the real story; I learned this when talking to the Viking family back in October (arg! that story hits again!). Taking notes can help us listen better, but sometimes they distract. That’s why we use recorders.

Finally, I think the best quote of the evening didn’t pertaining to interviewing at all:

The only absolutes in journalism are get it right and don’t make it up.

I work a profession full of gray areas, and it’s nice to know that there are at least two concrete spots out there somewhere, one for each foot to stand on while braving the storm.

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One Comment

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  1. I loved the analogy of music. This class will be so awesome.

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