Last month, Jeff Rowe talked about interviewing Tactics and Techniques: Drawing people out and getting them to speak from the heart. This isnt always possible. If the interview is likely to be a difficult or even hostile one, be prepared.
Ask simple, specific questions rather than complex ones. For example, asking a suspected mafia figure if he is engaged in organized crime is likely to produce a "no" answer. To the mafia chieftain, what he operates is a "business." A better questioning strategy would be to inquire, "How do you earn your money?"
Avoid questions that are so open-ended that they are the equivalent of handing over the microphone to the subject with instructions to "say whatever you want." For example, a question that begins "what can you tell us about... " gives the subject a free pass to make completely self-serving statements. Such questions also signal to our interview subject that our knowledge of the subject is skimpy.
Be careful not to load qualifiers onto your questions. Your interview subject may truthfully answer "no" to the question: "Did you embezzle money from the Amalgamated Textile trust fund?" A better question would be: "Have you ever stolen anything from anyone?"
Strive to get your subject to reveal basic facts. To do this, avoid words and phrases that automatically assign guilt. For example, asking a Serbian Army officer if his troops committed genocide almost certainly will produce a "no" response. To the Serbs, the Albanians were the enemy. Much better for the journalist to ask: "Why were unarmed civilian Albanians killed ?"
Silence can be especially effective when interviewing politicians and others who have been coached to stick to the message they want to deliver. Often, the first answer the reporter hears will be the crafted one. If the reporter is disciplined enough to let a few seconds of silence hang, the interviewee often will continue with an explanation. Sometimes a little more silence will elicit the emotional, from-the-heart response we want.
Excepted from Broadcast News Writing for Professionals, 2005 The Marion Street Press.