Asking Questions in Advanced Feature Writing

Feature wrBusinesspeople job interviewiters conduct many interviews, in-person as well as via phone or email, for almost every story. It’s among the most important skills a journalist develops, yet it’s rare to find a journalism school offering a dedicated course on interviewing. The subject is usually rolled into classes on researching and reporting and, in general, is treated like something most people can just figure out how to do on their own.

In my 13-week Advanced Feature Writing course at Ryerson University (registration is now open for the January semester), one highlight is when Paul McLaughlin, the top authority on interviewing in Canada, is our guest for an unforgettable three-hour session. Paul focuses on the psychodynamic of the interviewing process. What does that mean? Beyond doing background research and preparing your questions, have you made time to think through the many elements that can mean the difference between success and failure? For example:

  • Have your read “around,” as well as “about, the subject?
  • How will you be perceived by the interviewee?
  • Is there anything about the interviewee that might affect your performance? (Age? Gender? Ethnicity? Power differential?)
  • Have you planned your questions around using five senses?
  • Have you thought through, and practiced beforehand, asking the sensitive or controversial questions?
  • Have you thought about a Plan B and Plan C if your initial approach isn’t working?BP9832 Making notes in a notebook.

Paul takes us through the subject with many real-world examples and even though he has done this session in my classes for two decades, I still learn something new, or am reminded of something I’ve forgotten, every time I hear it.

Advanced Feature Writing will begin on Thursday, January 19th.

This is the link to Ryerson’s site for the course: Advanced Feature Writing

This is the page on my web site about the course: