Sports Journalism Institute

Helping women and minorities get into newsrooms since 1993

‘There’s only one star of an interview, and it’s not you’

Brett Kurland, the Director of Sports Programs at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication spoke to the Sports Journalism Institute Class of ’19 Tuesday about interviewing. He described seven “deadly sins” that journalists commit when asking questions, and I learned that I’ve been conducting interviews all wrong. “Deadly sin” No. 1: Making a statement instead of asking the question. Kurland said using phrases like “talk about” is lazy interviewing, and it gives too much control to the subject to just give you something, anything. “Deadly sin” No. 2: asking double-barreled questions, making too many demands. According to Kurland, when journalists overload questions or ask subjects two-part questions, they’ve given him or her a menu from which to choose what part of the question to answer. Other “deadly sins” Kurland mentioned included using hyperbole, showing bias when conducting interviews and asking questions that box you in, like “yes or no” questions. Kurland’s lecture made me evaluate how I typically interview players and coaches. I remember asking a player to “talk about” this play during the fourth quarter of a basketball game or “tell me about” that catch during the first half of the football game, which has never led to great quotes. I’ve asked bad “yes or no” questions that have led to bad answers. And I’ve taken too long to get to the point of a question. Kurland gave the class three words to remember to ensure we don’t continue to commit any of those sins: Questions should always be open, lean and neutral. Perhaps one of the biggest things I took away from his lecture was that an interview is not supposed to be a conversation. It’s not even supposed to be about the interviewer. The interviewer should simply ask the question, get out of the way so the subject can be the star. There’s no need for journalists to ask lengthy, convoluted questions, and no need to throw our opinions into the discussion. Our jobs are to get the information we’re seeking by asking a simple question and let the subject do the rest.

— Alanis Thames