CAMP 2013: The fine art of the interview


Jacqui Banaszynski
Jacqui Banaszynski offers advice on interviewing.

By 2013 Fellow Rachel Bowers

Jacqui Banaszynski tries to establish a rhythm when interviewing sources.

“I really like to think of an interview as a dance — how to keep rhythm and step together, but who’s going to lead?” Banaszynski said during Day 2 of Journalism & Women Symposium’s CAMP. “My subject can pick the music, but I get to lead.”

The Knight Chair professor at the University of Missouri School of Journalism and editing fellow at the Poynter Institute led The Fine Art of the Interview session on Saturday. Banaszynski said interviewing skills are not taught thoroughly enough at journalism schools across the country.

“The assumption is that interviewing is woven into everything we teach,” she said. “We think because we grow up talking to one another, we know how to interview.”

She said an interview is oftentimes a power struggle, but knowing what’s needed beforehand helps when digging for necessary information: whether it’s for color, for information, to get someone on the record, eyewitness account, clarification, sparkling quotes, catching a source in a lie or just to get other sources.

“When you reach out to the person you’re going to talk to, explain yourself, explain your purpose,” Banaszynski said.

She said dealing with public figures is different from handling everyday people because those in the public spotlight know how media work — everyday folk do not.

“Journalists are somehow averse to the word ‘sell’ but that’s what we’re doing,” she said. “We’re selling people on the notion that their story is valuable and worth telling. You can’t sell what you don’t believe in.”

Here are Banaszynski’s tips for interviewing:

  1. “Interview people in their native habitat. Don’t go to the zoo, go to the bush.”

  2. Use props and artifacts as interview tactics.

  3. Ask framing questions.

  4. “Use silence as a tool. … 95 percent of the time they’ll fill that silence.”

  5. For every question, ask five more. (Five is an arbitrary number). “I’m going to stay in the moment with five more questions that will give the person some time … it will also allow me to get closer and closer to the center.”

  6. Slow down the interview — it’s a way of being in the moment. “It’s also how you listen for the lie.”

  7. Always do a second interview. “Even if you only have one shot, you close the interview down and you open it back up because now you have a different relationship. … Use fact-checking as a second interview.”

  8. Use all six senses, emotion being the sixth sense. (Smell is most linked to memory.)

  9. “Don’t be boring. Don’t ask those predictable questions. Actually demonstrate to people that you’re genuinely curious about their situation, their life that show you actually care about it.”