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
Asking the right questions*
Andrew R. Cline, Ph.D.
Missouri State University
*Critical questions adapted from: Asking the Right Questions, by Browne and Keeley
Fallacies are errors in reasoning. Philosophers and rhetoricians have charted many such errors. You’ll find an extensive list at datanation.com.
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.
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.
Not only are there many sides to
a news situation, there will also be
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 is linked to…
X contributes to…
As a result of X…
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
Here is a list of statistical terms you
Margin of error
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
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?
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.
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