Posts Tagged ‘interviewing’

Investigative reporter Les Zaitz, who heads The Oregonian’s investigative team and a two-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, visited the newsroom last week.LesZaitzTeaching

Les has uncovered the workings of Mexican drug cartels flooding Oregon with heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine. He’s exposed corruption in Oregon’s prison system and was on the hit list of the Rajneeshees in the 1980s as he reported on the inner workings of their central Oregon commune. So he knows a thing or two about digging up compelling information.

Here’s a recap of some of the advice he shared with Beacon staff.

  1. “Shut up and listen” during interviews. Let there be silence at the end of the person’s answer to your question, even if it feels awkward.
  2. Arrive prepared: Know what information you want out of the interview and bring a list of questions
  3. Avoid email interviews (except to get certain facts.)
  4. Tell the people you want to interview, “We are doing the story” and “I just want to make sure I get it right.”
  5. Don’t ask yes/no questions.
  6. If you ask a general question, you’ll get a general answer.
  7. Details make a story good. Dig for interesting ones.
  8. Never mislead a source about what your story is about.
  9. Appeal to people’s humanity. Do what you can to earn their trust.
  10. If someone is upset, put the notebook down for a while.
  11. If you’re not 100 percent sure what a person meant when they said something, ask them to clarify it for you. Don’t worry about looking stupid. They will usually respect you when they see you are striving to get the story right.
  12. Get documents if relevant to the story.
  13. At the end of every interview, ask if there is anything else that’s important or interesting to know about the story.



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Day Two at the CMANYC conference once again started early, but luckily, a bit more brightly since we didn’t have to worry about getting in line for media tours. This morning, Kate and I didn’t attend any regular sessions because we went on a tour of Hearst Tower!



Hearst Tower is the world headquarters of the Hearst Corporation, founded by the famous media magnate William Randolph Hearst. It owns magazines like Good Housekeeping, Marie Claire, Esquire, and Harper’s Bazaar. But that’s not all. It owns cable networks like ESPN and newspapers like the San Francisco Chronicle.

Citizen Kane, more than loosely based on the life of Hearst, is one of my favorite movies of all time, so needless to say, I was completely stoked to be visiting the headquarters of this great company. Our first stop on the tour was by the office of Good Housekeeping magazine, which I was not super excited about at the moment, since I am not a girl who likes to clean and cook and be the best housekeeper in the world. I don’t think I will ever fit into that mold. However, the office was a lot more interesting than I anticipated. There were all these cool labs where they test each product they put in the magazine, from vacuums and anti-frizz serums to pasta sauce and laundry detergent. I think the tour guide said they test each recipe three times to make sure it works before they even put it in the magazine. Now that’s dedication!

Next up was a tour of the very top floor, where all the fancy executives, including members of the Hearst family, run the company. Of course, it was all very swanky with all this expensive art on the wall and fancy furniture and top-notch views of Central Park and the rest of the city. I felt like such a VIP.

Our final stop was at the office of Marie Claire magazine. I had such a 13 Going on 30 moment/The Devil Wears Prada moment in that office. I half-expected Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly to come gliding around the corner and cast a disdainful glare in our direction. The office looked like what you would think a magazine office would look like, but there definitely was a fashion closet and a make-up closet, and everyone was so fashionable. After our group got walked around the office (I peeked over a worker’s shoulder and saw that she was using Adobe InDesign to lay out a page for the magazine), we were ushered into a conference room where three different editors came in to talk to us about what it’s like to work at Marie Claire, how they got to the positions they are in now, and how the magazine world, and by extension, the whole of media has changed. I was especially impressed by Katie Connor, the Fashion Features Editor, who holds such a high position in the editorial realm at such a young age. She looked like she couldn’t have been more than 26 or 27, and she owed her early success to having many internships before she entered the job market. This made me a little uneasy, since I don’t have much internship experience to speak of, but that is something I am working to change right now.


The hallowed offices of Marie Claire magazine. Does it look straight out of Devil Wears Prada or what?


The three women emphasized the importance of fostering connections in the workplace, because the magazine world is so incestuous and everyone knows each other. A connection you made a few years ago could potentially lead to a job offer down the line. Another tip they had was to “be the person who fixes the copy machine.” By this, they meant that you need to find little ways to make yourself indispensible to whoever you work for that set you apart. Because I am really interested in magazine writing as a potential career path, I took every word they said to heart. After seeing the offices of both Good Housekeeping and Marie Claire, I can picture myself in that type of work environment, which I think is suited to my personality. Now, the next step is to get some experience! Easier said than done, for sure.

With our free copies of the March issue of Marie Claire in hand (we didn’t know if we were allowed to take them out of the office, but we did anyway. So rebellious!), Kate and I trekked back to the hotel and arrived a tad late for the keynote address by Jason Wagenheim, vice president and publisher of Teen Vogue magazine.  He was a very flamboyant personality, to say the least, but he had a lot of interesting things to say about the print magazine industry and made it all very entertaining. Some fun facts from his presentation: Sex and the City made high fashion accessible to the public, big events are key to the success of any publication (like the Vanity Fair Oscar Party and Teen Vogue’s Back to School Saturday), and always do your homework on any company you would like to join one day.

After this, I attended a session about Writing with Voice in Narrative, taught by David Simpson, who also taught the Tough Interview session form Sunday. Developing my own voice as a writer is incredibly important to me as I grow more confident in my reporting. David suggested some easy solutions to the “stranglers:” fear, inadequate reporting, excessive objectivity, and limited time. These “stranglers” often keep a reporter from showing his or her own voice in a story, especially in a feature or narrative format. His remedies: read good writing ALL THE TIME, practice makes perfect, “fail faster” so you can get better faster, ask about SCENES so you can better paint a picture for the reader, and above all, trust your gut! If you have an emotional response to something a source says, chances are, so will your audience. The best way to put this is to use both sides of your brain in reporting. Yes, you should be analyzing facts, but you should also search for emotional cues that have the potential to take your story from average to amazing.

The showcase today was by a man named Sree Sreenivasan, a digital media guru who works at Columbia University. Within the first five minutes, my mind just exploded from all the social media tips he threw at us, from different websites to “name-checking” everyone on Twitter to following your ABC’s as a journalist: Always Be Collecting pictures and info with your smart phone or laptop. Sree says, be hashtag happy! The more blue your Tweets have in them, the better. At one point, Sree declared himself a Hindu priest of the Catholic Church, and made us get up out of our chairs, take pictures of his Social Media Success formula, all while chanting this formula together. Who knew social media could be such a religious experience?!

That pretty much concludes Day Two of the convention. Will Day Three be as crazy awesome? Stay tuned to find out!


What a coincidence! Stumbling upon The New York Times in New York City of all places! 😉

~Kathryn Walters

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Today was the first day of the College Media Association we Beaconites are attending here in New York City, and here I am, sitting in the lobby of the Sheraton Times Square Hotel, ready to collapse after a very long day of journalism craziness! Our very early day started at about 6 this morning, when some of us got up early to get on line to reserve spots for media tours on Monday and Tuesday. Kate and I are going to Hearst Tower (or, Hearst Castle, as I deliriously told the sign-up lady this morning), where many magazines, like Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, Esquire, Good Housekeeping, and Marie Claire, are published.  So that will be fun! I am really excited to get a closer look at the magazine industry.

The first session I attended this morning was called “Tough Interview? You Can Do it!” presented by David Simpson, a college media adviser who has written for the Associated Press and many other publications. He was a really engaging presenter, considering it was 9 a.m. (more like 8 a.m. with the time change, which felt more like 5 a.m. for us West Coast girls!). He had a lot of really good tips for dealing with difficult administrators or PR people who don’t want to talk, or aren’t very forthcoming when they do talk to you. He emphasized the importance of being professional, which was a no-brainer, but I took away from him some really interesting points. One way to get the facts straight of any story is to have the source tell it in chronological order so you can catch any errors of logic or inconsistencies. He also said that while it’s important to be prepared, sometimes for whatever reason, you just can’t always be 100 percent put together, and so it’s better to admit this to the source so you won’t have to scam your way through an interview. Probably the biggest thing I took away from him was the importance of listening to your source, and not just thinking of your next question, because you may miss something important if you do. And if you are still really nervous for an interview, a little self-affirmation can go a long way.

I next went to “Just Do It: International Freelancing Post-Graduation,” which was given by a recent college graduate, Julia Waterhous, who decided to follow her dream of freelance journalism in India, and the steps she took to get there. The biggest thing I took from this presentation was the importance of courage and determination in following whatever dream you may have. As someone who loves to travel and learn about different cultures, I thought it was a really fascinating presentation.

The keynote speaker today was Willie Geist, who’s basically done every job there is in journalism, from writing to editing to producing to hosting all these different morning shows, including the 9 a.m. hour of The Today Show. He was such a funny and engaging speaker! He had some really great insights about breaking into the business. He said there is no set way to get involved in journalism. You just have to go for it and see where it takes you and where you may possibly end up. Also, a journalist must often be flexible and versatile to be successful. As he so eloquently put it, “15 minutes after talking about the sequester, I’m across the street making meatloaf with Martha Stewart.”


Willie Geist!

After some lunch, I attended a presentation called “Tight, Bright Writing and Editing,” by Peggy Elliott. It was mostly about how you can make your writing more concise and neat, which I personally really want to improve on. I learned about getting rid of redundancies, like “actual truth” and “future plans,” and the difference between “due to” (implies debt) and “because of” (cause and effect) in an article. I know I use “due to” a lot in my articles, so I was really happy I learned how different these two phrases actually are! Little things like these are what make the difference between good writers and great writers!

“Becoming a Pitch-Perfect Writer” was my next session, and this one was a bit different from others I had attended so far. It was about getting your foot in the door if you want to freelance for magazines or even newspapers. The key, according to the presenter, Rick Marshall (who was really funny and laid-back) is to know how to pitch your ideas to potential editors. He talked about strategies such as understanding the tone and audience of the publication you want to freelance for, keeping your pitch concise, being as timely as possible in regard to current events, and not overreaching with your credentials. Good things to know for any career you may choose to go into!

The final session I attended was a showcase called “Insider Tips from a Metro Editor on Snagging Internships and a Job,” and it was a really good session at first, with lots of helpful tips like getting in contact with potential editors for “informational interviews” cultivating as many relationships in the workplace as you can, and encouraging us to even seek out non-editors, like parents or friends, to help with article construction. However, when he opened it up for questions, it gradually turned into one big brag-fest where it seemed like everyone who asked questions tried to outdo each other in how many internships and how much real journalism experience they had. Oh well. Not every session can be a winner, I guess.

Right now, it doesn’t seem like my brain could possibly contain any more new information, but there’s still a day and a half to go! I am so excited to learn more as these days go on. Now, to a bit of R&R before tomorrow’s round 2!


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