Are You a Pugnacious or Assertive Citizen Journalist?
There is more than one way to interview someone for a news story.
Some journalists take the role of an unfriendly, disbelieving inquirer who wants to catch the interviewee in some moment of confusion or expose him/her as a hypocrite, ignoramus or buffoon. I refer to this as “gotcha” journalism.
Some journalists take the role of a supportive, affable colleague so they don’t ask any tough questions that might embarrass the interviewee. This often called throwing softballs, but I call it “brownnose” journalism.
The really good journalists take the role of an objective, neutral interviewer with no agenda except to get the interviewee’s side of the story. This is called unbiased journalism.
The role you take as a journalist interviewing someone for a story is important, but there are other aspects of the journalist’s interview that will also help or hinder your quest for a complete story. The words used to formulate questions, the tone of voice used to ask them and the body language employed in the interview either contribute to or detract from a successful interview.
You can choose to take either a pugnacious or assertive style of questioning. If you are pugnacious, you will usually be perceived as negative – at least by the person you are interviewing. Assertive behavior, on the other hand, is nearly always perceived as positive. Here are some differences between a pugnacious and an assertive interviewing style:
Pugnacious questioning will cause you to look at your interviewee with furrowed brow and a disbelieving face. Assertive questioning reveals a welcoming face and results in friendly eye contact.
Pugnacious questioning may create body language expressions that will intimidate your interviewee. Assertive questioning is accompanied with body language that demonstrates personal confidence and creates an open and comfortable atmosphere.
Pugnacious questioning insinuates obstinacy and a closed mind. Assertive questioning allows for a persistent yet respectful inquisitiveness that genuinely seeks new and relevant information.
Pugnacious questioning can become a debate. Assertive questioning keeps the interviewee honest and the interviewer on task with his/her bias always in check.
Before interviewing anyone for a story, prepare carefully. The easy questions don’t take as much time to prepare for as the more hard-hitting ones. Carefully formulate your tough questions in a way that shows respect for your interviewee while at the same time demands an honest and complete answer.
And never be a “gotcha” or “brownnose” journalist.