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.
- “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.
- Arrive prepared: Know what information you want out of the interview and bring a list of questions
- Avoid email interviews (except to get certain facts.)
- Tell the people you want to interview, “We are doing the story” and “I just want to make sure I get it right.”
- Don’t ask yes/no questions.
- If you ask a general question, you’ll get a general answer.
- Details make a story good. Dig for interesting ones.
- Never mislead a source about what your story is about.
- Appeal to people’s humanity. Do what you can to earn their trust.
- If someone is upset, put the notebook down for a while.
- 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.
- Get documents if relevant to the story.
- At the end of every interview, ask if there is anything else that’s important or interesting to know about the story.