Repeat The Question



Sources seem to be really good at avoiding the questions reporters really want answered. They certainly have quite the knack for it.

It happens to me on easy and hard questions. It happens when people already know it’s coming. You get used to it, but you still have to be persistent. There are really no bad questions in this profession.

Vague responses are frustrating, but you have to work through it. There is nothing I hate more than a story with vague quotes. It’s not fair to you, your editors and, more importantly, the readers who are looking for the answers.

If you are having trouble with a source giving you a direct, clean answer, ask them again. Be direct, but don’t be too pushy. Remember this all depends on the topic. For some instances, it may not be wise to push the source, but, it sure can’t hurt to rephrase the question.

Ultimately, you are looking for an actual response. If you have to level with them and tell them exactly what you are looking for, by all means do it. Sources are regular people and the respect goes both ways. You have to be flexible in your questions.

Or, if you don’t want to ask another question, why not ask them to clarify their answer?

That’s basically the same as asking another question without the awkwardness that sometimes happens.

With these types of situations, you don’t want to misparaphrase something someone said. That will lead to a pissed off source and a crappy story. And that’s the last thing you want to happen.

These are tactics, but you aren’t scheming against the person. As a journalist, you like to get the “gotcha” moments, but most stories aren’t those. With all of these situations,  you have to be your judge and jury. It’s all up to you.

You have to be smart and make sure you get your job done and done well.



2 Responses to Repeat The Question

  1. Huw Thomas says:

    Another technique is to paraphrase what they’ve said, repeat it back and say ‘is this what you mean?’
    (Deliberately getting it wrong may also encourage them to explain more carefully as your sources also don’t want to be misquoted!)

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