This article was updated on March 21, 2018 at 9:30 a.m. EST.
The interview is a key tool for journalists. Yet the interviews we conduct every day to collect sources’ testimonies to complete our articles, aren’t the same as a question-and-answer (Q&A) — an unedited back-and-forth with the subject. This genre requires care, constitutes a separate world, and when done well, can become a memorable piece of public consultation.
As the editor of La Prensa’s Sunday magazine (the largest newspaper in Nicaragua), part of my job is to ensure that each week readers have a three-page Q&A interview with a prominent person in society.
After choosing an iconic national character, a leading specialist in a certain subject or the most popular character of the week, my job, and that of my team, is to ask questions to extract the quality and quantity of information that the audience expects. This is difficult to achieve, but there are techniques to reach the best result.
One particular feature of the Q&A interview, journalist Fabián Medina told IJNet, is that “[it] places the reader before the interviewee to ask him/her the questions they would like to ask him through the interviewer. A good interviewer will always represent their audience in front of the interviewee.”
Medina, jury of the King of Spain international journalism prize in 2008, is the author of Secretos de Confesión, a compilation of interviews with key figures from Nicaraguan society. His book includes an interview with Daniel Ortega, the current president of the country who no longer gives interviews to anyone.
“The journalist has to go with curiosity to the character. Never fall into the temptation to ask the questions that the interviewee wants to be asked,” says Medina. “We always ask ourselves, if our readers were here, before this character, what would they ask?"
Carlos Fernando Chamorro, winner of the Maria Moors Cabot journalism award, told IJNet that the success of an interview also involves a quality that we should always have with our interlocutors: listening. He states:
“The biggest challenge in producing a good interview is learning to listen. Many times we prepare ourselves well, we investigate the interviewee, we make a sketch of what we are going to ask, and we even design a possible route for the conversation, leaving the most controversial issues to the end. But a good plan can become a sort of straitjacket if we cling to it fully. Listening implies being open to exploring other unforeseen topics, and having the ability to cross-examine and ask twice. It's what happens in any interesting conversation between two people, but only rarely do we capture that moment in the interviews.”
Chamorro is the founder of the weekly newspaper Confidencial, the magazine Niú and the television programs Esta Noche and Esta Semana. In the latter, he produces weekly interviews that appear weekly on national television. He has decades of experience as an interviewer, and knows better than most what the public expects.
“The audience deserves and likes good interviews,” he says. “They want to know what they have not read in other media, and above all they are interested in how the journalist questions and extracts information from those in a position of power.”
The advantage of this genre of journalism is transparency. It doesn’t matter if we agree or disagree with the interviewee. If we, as journalists, use the interview to unearth truths, uncover corruption, obtain confessions or clarify a topic of national importance, the reader will hear these responses free from editing.
In post-war Nicaragua, the Q&A interview was established as a main genre. “In the face of political polarization, the interview gave assurances that what was quoted there verbatim, says Medina. “[It] is what the interviewee said, without the possibility of manipulation that other formats allow.”