It’s Okay To Fish



I don’t mean on the Connecticut River, but on the phone or in a face-to-face interview. If you don’t fish or “reach” on some topics you won’t be as informed as you could be. It may piss of the source you are talking to, but it’s something that you’d be remiss to not at least try.

The trick is to not start off with a reaching question. That will throw off the entire interview and piss off your source before you’ve gotten any information from them. It’s a dance you do around the question.

Going fishing during an interview is helpful for several reasons. It helps you gather that rapport with the source in a way. If you don’t test the boundaries of that relationship, what are you doing? You can’t always write the fluff pieces or the “attaboy” stories. You write those from time to times sure, but you really need to get down to the issues. As a journalist, that’s your main goal and it should be.

Reaching also allows you to slowly get more and more things off the record. I’ve talked about that before, but not like this. Getting information off the record gives you the extra background and understanding that can sometimes be crucial to a story or feature you are writing. It’ll pay off for you in the end, trust me.

In some ways, I think sources respect you for trying to get the “tough” questions answered. If the source doesn’t know you are going to ask something like that from time to time they must think you are soft. Issues and topics come up that make people uncomfortable or stirs up some emotions. That’s the way humans are. We aren’t going to agree on everything, but it’s the journalists’ job to ensure the public knows what’s going on and how it’s going to affect them. If we can’t do that for our readers what good are we?

I like to argue the obligation we have for the truth in what we write should be the same for asking the tough quetsions and, in many circumstances, demanding the answers. It’s what we are taught to do and our editors demand it.

If we don’t strive for that, what are we doing here?



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