A Tip from a Newspaper Journalist

Mar 07, 2017

“A certain amount of opposition is a great help to a man.
Kites rise against, not with the wind.”

John Neal

A Tip from a Newspaper Journalist

TISA Description of the Problem: I recently had the honor of addressing a group of newspaper and broadcast journalists at the 2005 Asian American Journalists Association East Coast Mini-Conference in New York City. I was part of a panel entitled “The Art of Interviewing” organized by Ylan Q. Mui, the Education Reporter for the Washington Post and moderated by Jennifer 8 Lee, Metro Reporter for the Washington Post.

It was exciting to see the intense interest from these reporters on how mental health professionals are trained in interviewing. They were particularly interested in our use of validity techniques such as “shame attenuation” and “symptom amplification” and the use of “facilic” supervision for learning how to effectively structure interviews while creating a conversational flow (see “Psychiatric Interviewing: the Art of Understanding, 2nd Edition”, Shea, W. B. Saunders, pages 98-131 and 392-412).

I also learned a lot. Here is one tip I found to be immediately of use in clinical practice. It was provided by the highly regarded reporter, Ben White, a fellow panelist who covers the “Business Beat” on Wall Street for the Washington Post. The tip addresses the difficult situation facing a reporter who is trying to obtain an interview from a source that may feel “on the spot” or concerned that the interview will portray them poorly. After Ben described the tip to the audience we decided that it warranted a name – “fair sharing”. You will see the reason for the name as Ben describes it.

Tip: As a reporter I am often faced with reluctant interviewees, who may not even want to be interviewed. Frequently, in such cases I will have already interviewed sources that have opposing views or damaging opinions of the person I am hoping to interview. Interestingly, it is often damaging for the person to refuse to be interviewed for it may look like he or she is hiding information and his or her side of the story will not be heard. This point gives both myself and the potential interviewee a common interest – to proceed with the interview. I find the following phrasing to sometimes help move us towards that shared goal:

“I was just interviewing someone who opposes your viewpoint rather strongly. I feel it is very important that I be fair in my reporting. I know this topic might be difficult to talk about for you, but I feel it is only fair that you have a chance to share your side of the story. I would like to be the one who reports it. Would it be okay if we do a brief interview?”

TISA Follow-up: What a wonderful interviewing tip! You can see why we decided to call it “fair sharing”. We, as clinicians, often face similar circumstances such as clients who have been sent to us by employers or clients mandated to see us by the courts. One situation that comes immediately to mind is in interviewing an adolescent referred for behavioral problems. Frequently, such students immediately assume that the clinician is “on the side of the parents or the school”.

Using fair sharing, the clinician might de-escalate the situation with a statement such as, “John, I just spoke with your parents and the principal, so I have their side of the story. But only you and the principal were alone in that room, and I really need your side of the story. I need your help. I want to truly understand what happened and be very fair in how we try to understand what happened. What is it that the principal said that you found upsetting and wrong?”

It is consistently fascinating to me how the interviewing principles developed by one discipline (in this case newspaper reporting) can be transferable to a completely different field (clinical interviewing). We have much to learn from each other. I hope that techniques such as “fair sharing” are just the beginning of our collaboration.

Tip provided by:

Ben White
Staff Reporter, Wall Street Reporter
The Washington Post