News and information to help journalists serve the public and stay safe.
July 20, 2020
Journalists prize investigative work for the impact it has: unearthing risk and damage, holding the powerful to account, changing laws and changing lives. But investigative journalism jobs have long been the province of veteran reporters, usually white and male. As newsrooms commit to diversifying their teams, investigative journalists can better reflect underserved communities that have traditionally been harmed by systemic problems yet to be exposed. 

Join moderator  Manny Garcia , senior editor for the ProPublica-Texas Tribune Investigative Initiative; Maria Perez , investigative reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel; and Cheryl W. Thompson , investigative correspondent for NPR and president of Investigative Reporters and Editors, for this program from the  News Leaders Association  and Journalism Institute.

A good interviewer prepares well, never forgets to ask “why,” and carefully listens — for tone, for key words or phrases, for follow-up questions. 

Those were among the takeaways from a conversation between Terry Gross , host and executive producer of NPR’s Fresh Air, and Michael Barbaro , host of The New York Times’ podcast The Daily.

Barbaro and Gross shared their interviewing insights Friday during a National Press Club Journalism Institute video event moderated by Marketplace Correspondent Kimberly Adams .
Among their main points:

On being succinct

Gross : Sometimes I have a rambling question because I haven't fully formulated what the question is, because I'm responding to something that they said, and I know that there's a kernel I want to get to I'm just not sure what it is yet. I'll just kind of start talking because it's my turn and kind of wait for the thought to crystallize, and in radio, dead air is really a scary thing.

Barbaro : Sometimes the shortest questions in the world are the most valuable in the moment: Why? What were you thinking? ... The one almost markedly common question on The Daily is,. “What does that mean, what did it mean in the moment?”

Gross : I’ll take a key word that somebody has said, or phrase, and I'll say, “You said this, what do you mean by that?” Because it's a way of getting deeper into what they just said. Often the way of getting deeper is to go back to what somebody said and basically say, take it to the next step.

On interviewing for a radio show or podcast like Fresh Air or The Daily

Gross : Sometimes I'll say, “Those answers are too long, we won't be able to fit it into our format.” And it's also sometimes my way of saying those answers are confusing — maybe if you made them shorter, we’ll more easily hear what the point is. And I try to do it as nicely and as gently and as calming as possible, not in an insulting way. But I do sometimes step in and say, “It needs to be shorter,” or, “Forgive me, my [question] must have been confusing so let me restate.” 

Barbaro : Some of our [New York Times] colleagues would come on the show and tell stories the way journalists do, the inverted pyramid. The big news on top, and the supporting information and just kind of get it all out at once. And we would joke that sometimes people would come on the show and vomit out the whole story. We'd say, “You know we have 25 minutes to fill here, and we'd like to tell this with some drama and some suspense and chronology. So, let's try it a little more slowly.”

Long-distance vs in-person interviews

Gross : Most of my interviews are long-distance interviews. … We both have to listen really intently because there's no body language ... there are no other cues. But the advantage to having that is I can take notes, I can look at notes, I can page through a book to get a quote that I want without feeling that I'm losing eye contact.

Barbaro : In-person interviews are somewhat terrifying at times. But I find them very liberating because there is no distraction, other than the guest, the person you're talking to. … And I do like the body language a lot, and I like the spontaneity of that.

Time spent on research

Gross : I have my own form of plowing through a book kind of quickly, circling everything I want to remember, dog-earing each of those pages and taking notes on everything I’ve dog-eared, and then using those notes as my memory bank from which to inspire my questions. So, you know, I'll do that with the book. I'll also have articles by or about the writer. 

Barbaro : Whenever people speak about interviewing, there's a suspicion that hosts have this kind of higher order of skill than anybody else when it comes to asking spontaneous questions. That might be true of some people — I'm going to guess it's true of Terry. 

I know that when it comes to The Daily, it's all about the preparation, it's all about just how much labor and thinking goes into what the question needs to be, what a possible answer might look like, where do we want the conversation to go. We think a lot about and talk a lot about the kind of arc of the conversation. Where does it start, where does it go, and where may it end. And of course, sometimes you have to toss that all away — the conversation just goes someplace else. But I think the show reflects just how much rigor we put into that process.

Advice from  Jill Geisler ,
Bill Plante Chair in Leadership & Media Integrity, Loyola University Chicago
Freedom Forum Fellow in Women’s Leadership

I’ve lived the last few months on Zoom, Teams, Meet, Skype, Webex, GotoMeeting, and Whereby. 

I’ve communicated with people who were mimes until they remembered to unmute, with lighting ideal for witnesses in need of protection, and with camera angles that created nostril-oscopys.

I’ve slogged through connectivity glitches, calendar conflicts and time-zone confusion.

Still, remote work brings its own benefits.

I’ve been welcomed into kitchens and dens, discussed artwork and heirlooms, met children, partners and pets. I’ve confabbed without jet lag and celebrated the joy of the work-from-home dress code: If it’s comfortable, it’s chic. (Full disclosure: I just realized I’m writing this column while barefoot.) 

I’ve swapped sincere inquiries about wellness and wistfulness. 

“Everyone okay at your house?” 

“How long since you’ve visited your parents?” 

“What will you do on your furlough next week?”

We are blessed to be employed. Blessed that our remote status protects our health. Happy to have adapted systems and habits and busted the myth that remote workers may be less productive.

We’ve made the best of it since March. 

But I’m hearing more often that people miss seeing their colleagues in person. The brainstorming. The BS-ing. The ability to have a heart-to-heart talk about a challenge, which works so much better face-to-face than lens-to-lens.

We don’t want our professional lives to be a series of transactions; efficient but impersonal - the equivalent of driving through a fast-food outlet. We want connections - like a friendly diner where they know your order before you sit down and you tip better because you know the waitstaff’s backstories. 

Connections improve our work.

They’re the filter through which we decide if a text message was “terse” or just “brief.” They enable us to extend trust and the benefit of the doubt. To criticize with candor. To ask for help or offer it, without fear of being misread. To explore problems and solutions with less guesswork about intentions and values. 

Connections happen because we work at them - even as we work remotely.

Think of your days as a series of online interactions. What question can you ask, what message can you send, what info can you learn or share that will turn transactions into connections?  

How will you build on them? How will you sustain connections over time and distance, or back in buildings fitted out with safe, socially distant work spaces? 

While you’re thinking about those important questions, let me leave you with just one more, that means a lot to me:

Where did I leave my shoes?
Do you qualify as an ally? Join Jill for the next  Freedom Forum Institute Power Shift Project program   on August 20 at 1 p.m. EDT.   Registration is now open .
The National Press Club Journalism Institute is spotlighting the next generation of journalists , students who graduated from college or Master’s programs this spring into a challenging job market . We hope they’ll meet future bosses and colleagues here, who will reach out and support them in building journalism’s future together. 

Name : Abigail Sliva
School : University of St. Thomas 
Location : St. Paul, MN
Student media : TommieMedia
Wackiest story : A possum terrorizing campus

What have you learned from your involvement with student media on your campus?

Sliva : I have learned how to reach sources, build relationships with sources, write efficiently, consider as many sides of the story as possible while weighting them carefully, as well as so many leadership skills and how to build newsroom trust and expertise.

What's been your best moment in journalism?

Sliva : My best moment in journalism was going to the state courthouse to cover the indictment of a St. Thomas student charged with making bomb threats to campus. The pressure of covering a case that other local outlets were covering in a timely, dignified way was really rewarding, and it gave me an experience that I can take with me moving forward in local journalism.

To support journalism students, contribute here to scholarships
Some voices rise and echo, and others never penetrate the noise that surrounds us. Having an important platform — like the New York Times or L.A. Times — can amplify perspectives. In this program, L.A. Times editorial page editor  Sewell Chan , L.A. Times columnist  Erika Smith , Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter  Nikole Hannah-Jones , and New York Times Magazine editor-in-chief  Jake Silverstein  will describe: 

  • How to make yourself heard 
  • How to work with an editor or writer to hone a point of view 
  • How to pitch (& catch) a column or opinion piece 

Registration is open now  for this program, which will be held on 11:30 a.m.-12:15 p.m. ET July 29. 
Financial security is a piece of any self-care plan . Whether you’re a longtime freelance professional or the economy has thrust you into independent work, entrepreneurship during the pandemic has created stress for the self-employed. 

When finances feel unstable, it’s enticing to focus on improving that area alone. Here are some other things to consider as self-care while freelancing: 

If you’re not currently a freelancer, check in on your friends who do contract or gig work. It’s a challenging time — and your outreach could feel like a lifeline.

Read on for more self-care tips, or share your own .
This newsletter is written & edited by the National Press Club Journalism Institute staff: Beth Francesco, Holly Butcher Grant, Jim Kuhnhenn, and Julie Moos. Send us your questions and suggestions for topics to cover.

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