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Asking the tough question

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by MartinEnigmatica, Feb 28, 2007.

  1. MartinEnigmatica

    MartinEnigmatica Active Member

    Have any of you, at the beginning of your careers, been a little gun shy when you knew you could have asked a pressing question when it's merited. Not necessarily to just ask a tough question and appear like a serious journalist, but to get a serious answer beyond the typical Ole bull that some coaches and others spew out repeatedly. If so, how'd you get over it?
  2. Shaggy

    Shaggy Guest

    Do it once or twice and come to the realization that the subject hardly, if ever, takes out a gun and blows your head off.

    That said, I wouldn't recommend asking Suge Knight why he can't just obey the fucking law.
  3. EE94

    EE94 Guest

    by taking the plunge and asking it.

    all the responses you get over the years - to the good questions and the bad - just add to your experience and repertoire.

    I remember covering a pro golf tourney early in my career. Had to interview a local guy on the tour. As I make my introduction, a crowd of autograph seekers come around (no press room for this guy). I ask a mildly tough question on his lack of success and he challenges me on the factual basis. I admit I didn't know it cold, so he's got me and he begins to ridicule me as the autograph hounds snicker.
    In retrospect, I can understand his reaction. My question, while not insulting, wasn't complimentary and after a bad day on the course, I probably wouldn't have been receptive to my question either.
    But if I'd done my research better, I would have at least been able to debate.
    Instead, I sucked it up, continued with the interview, and swore then and there that it wouldn't happen again.
  4. ripthejacker

    ripthejacker New Member

    especially if you're on a beat, I think it gets easier once you do ask a few tough questions because your source gets to expect that from you. He's probably not going to get the tough questions from your competitor, at least if you're in a small market like me, and I feel like they actually appreciate the opportunity to defend themselves. I think framing the question, too gives you a chance to explain where you're coming from so you don't sound like Jim Gray trying to kill someone's character.
    No doubt I've had to defend my right to ask the question, and I've even had a sit down with a junior college football coach who later temporarily banned the team from talking to me, but I'm at the point now where I rarely hesitate asking the tough question. P.S. I placed a phone call to the coach's AD later saying what the coach did was unprofessional and violated the conference's code of conduct to cooperate with the press. Didn't know if that was true, but I do know that schools and conferences often do have things like that written into their bylaws.
    What I'm saying is that sources often are obligated to talk to you and if you establish that you will try to cover several aspects of a story, even the not-so-pleasant parts, you're more likely to have tough questions go over more smoothly.
    Could have put that more succintly, but I needed to vent a bit about that coach.
  5. "Some people have suggested that you should be sponsored by Depends because you look like you are about to pee yourself every time you have a late inning lead. What would you say to those people?"
  6. I'd think that could happen only once to you.
  7. Montezuma's Revenge

    Montezuma's Revenge Active Member

    Not necessarily.
  8. Jim Tom Pinch

    Jim Tom Pinch Active Member

    Ask it like of course you're going to ask it.

    Like you think he knows the questions is coming. Don't let them know you don't want to ask it.
  9. Dale Cooper

    Dale Cooper Member

    What helped me the first time was the thought of -- I know I have to write about this. So am I going to be totally unfair and write about it without giving him a chance to get his side out there? Or am I going to let him give his point of view?

    It was pretty easy after that.
  10. I actually think you can soften a tough question by saying something like that: Look, I have to ask this question, but . . .

    I've found that actually works with people I don't know well.
  11. shockey

    shockey Active Member

    i don't know. that's like the reporter in the nick nolte college hoops flick saying, "if i didn't ask, i wouldn't be doing my job..." or saying, "sorry, coach, tough question, but i have to ask...."

    eff that. never apologize for doing your job. ask the question. get an answer. that's how you earn respect, in the long run. you can ask in a thoughtful manner. you don't have to come off like a dick. but just do it.
  12. fishwrapper

    fishwrapper Active Member

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