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Advanced Interviewing Critical Reporting: Asking the right questions* Andrew R. Cline, Ph.D. Missouri State University *Critical questions adapted from: Asking the Right Questions , by Browne and Keeley Critical Questions: Discover new facts Challenge master narratives

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advanced interviewing

Advanced Interviewing

Critical Reporting:

Asking the right questions*

Andrew R. Cline, Ph.D.

Missouri State University

*Critical questions adapted from: Asking the Right Questions, by Browne and Keeley

critical questions
Critical Questions:
  • Discover new facts
  • Challenge master narratives
  • Challenge spin and propaganda
  • Provide necessary background
  • Add depth to reporting
question 1
Question #1
  • What are the issues and the conclusions?
question 2
Question #2
  • What are the reasons?
questions 3
Questions #3
  • What words or phrases are ambiguous?
questions 4
Questions #4
  • What are the value conflicts and assumptions?
question 5
Question #5
  • What are the descriptive assumptions?
question 6
Question #6
  • What are the fallacies in the reasoning?

Fallacies are errors in reasoning. Philosophers and rhetoricians have charted many such errors. You’ll find an extensive list at

We all make mistakes, so it should not surprise you that in an interview you will hear various logical fallacies. But be aware that some civic actors use logical fallacies as tools of persuasion. For example, the red herring fallacy is popular in politics. It gets its name from a foul-smelling fish. This is the fallacy in which the speaker throws something that “stinks” into the argument in order to avert attention from the topic.

question 7
Question #7
  • How good is the evidence?

There’s not much point to conducting an

interview if the information you get isn’t

any good. How do you tell?

It’s a good idea to begin vetting information from the interview during the interview. Always ask where information comes from or how it was gathered. Ask: “How do you know that’s true”? Further, always try to verify information from an interview with another source.

question 8
Question #8
  • What are the rival causes?

Not only are there many sides to

a news situation, there will also be

many causes.

Journalists tend to look for human

motives first. That’s a bias of our

individualist culture. We tend to blame or praise people in regard to news events. But people often are not in control of events.

When a source makes a causal argument, always ask: What might be other causes? You may recognize causal argument by such statements as:

X has the effect of…

X leads to…

X influences

X is linked to…

X determines

X contributes to…

As a result of X…

question 9
Question #9
  • Are the statistics deceptive?

It’s quite easy to deceive with

statistics. And it’s especially easy if

journalists don’t understand the basics.

A lack of understanding means you put

yourself at the mercy of your sources. And

simply quoting them does not let you off

hook. You and your editor are responsible

for all the information published under

your byline.

Here is a list of statistical terms you

should know:




Per capita


Margin of error

Sample size

Normal distribution

Standard deviation

question 10
Question # 10
  • What significant information is missing?

Sources will naturally speak from a

point of view. There’s nothing wrong

with this. The reporter, however, must

be prepared to dig for information

beyond ideology or, worse, propaganda

and spin.

You do this by asking such questions as:

What else explains the situation?

What other groups have an interest?

It’s a good idea to ask sources to

comment on information gathered from

other sources, allowing them to reveal

missing information. For example:

Do these figures match your own?

What did you witness?

What else do I need to know?

question 11
Question #11
  • Who benefits; who pays?

Who benefits?

Who pays?

Who stands to lose?

Who stands to gain?

These are important questions that many

reporters fail to ask themselves or their

sources. News events are usually ambiguous

until someone assigns meaning. Assigning

meaning is also assigning value.

For example: Some factions refer to estate

taxes as “the death tax.” Others call it

an “inheritance tax.” These terms are not

politically neutral; they signal a political

position in regard to policy. Readers need

to know who benefits and who pays.

question 12
Question #12
  • What reasonable conclusions are possible?

Don’t settle for the source’s first

conclusion. Ask for more. What else is

possible? What else could account for

this? What other alternatives have you