When you’ve been a journalist for years, you develop rote patterns for many of your reporting activities — sites you always visit, online searches you always conduct (hopefully including background searches on sources), and questions you always ask during interviews. Interviews have long been my favorite aspect of reporting.
I’ve developed a long list of questions that guide me when I’m preparing for my next interview. But one question appears on every single list of prepared questions no matter who I’m talking to or what topic I’m covering: Is there anything else I should have asked you but didn’t that you want to address?
I can’t add up the number of times this question has been utterly crucial to my reporting. One instance completely changed my line of reporting and where I pitched the story, it was during an interview with a CDC official about a Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, which are usually as dry as it gets. (It’s difficult to get them to answer anything that’s not already printed in the study.) When I asked that question at the end of the interview, the answer extended the interview another 15 minutes. The source pointed out a racial disparity in care that I had overlooked, leading me to make that fact the central angle of my story and heavily influencing who my outside experts were.
Other times, this question has led to other interviews (I also always ask who else they recommend I speak to), sudden epiphanies about the story I’m working on, the perfect kicker quote or lead, the final piece I needed to click into place for a nut graf, tips that become follow-up stories, tips that become stories on completely different topics altogether, and even just a collegial, informal follow-up conversation that cements a new relationship with a potentially helpful ongoing source.