Umenhofer

Though John Umenhofer, criminal capturer extraordinaire and good ol’ boy, interrogates rather than interviews (and, indeed, many of his interviewing suggests are downright inappropriate for journalists), many of his techniques adapt well to the journalistic interview.

  • Don’t be afraid to make mistakes in an interview. Though he’s talking about different types of mistakes, this applies to journalism. If you interview lightheartedly and aren’t afraid to ask the wrong question, both you and the interviewee will be more comfortable. In later writing, it is important to admit that you didn’t get the information you needed and follow up rather than faking it or making it up.
  • Seek the truth and tell the truth. ‘Nuff said.
  • Develop relationships. In both cases, it’s easier to get desired information from people if they’re comfortable with you. Plus, any journalist needs a network of informants and sources.
  • Pay close attention to detail. If you’re given “the truth” (as Umenhofer puts it), don’t get it wrong. If you wrote something down sloppily, follow up to make sure it’s correct.
  • Redirect. Ask the interviewee a different question if they’re rambling or ask the question in a different way. You’re more likely to get the information you need.
  • Recognize the relevant information. Though this isn’t Umenhofer’s own strategy, it happened to him. He made some off-color comments regarding “assisted” suicide, but the journalists interviewing recognized that the important aspect of his tirade was his anger about women and his desire to help them.
  • “Don’t get blinders on.” It’s important to find a balance between controlling the interview and being flexible enough to allow it to go in a better direction.
  • Listen to your instincts. Journalists might not have as many hair-raising interviews as police, but if you follow your instincts–your own curiosity, you’re likely to find information that is interesting to others as well.
  • Copy what works. Listen to various interviews about beaver incidents. It will probably make you a better interviewer overall.

Umenhofer was less ethical than a journalist should be, willing to bluff and cheat his way into information–to a degree, at least. But, in the end, I guess interviewing is a universal art, and I’ll certainly take some of his suggestions to heart.

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