Frequently Asked Questions is a series by me, Jane Hutcheon, a person who ... frequently asks questions.
As I approach a landmark 35 years in journalism, I’m keen to share my knowledge of the craft of asking questions.
Along the way I’ve also picked up plenty of tips about how to answer questions too.
Whether you’re a journalist, student, performer, teacher, speech-writer, MC, you work in corporate life, books and publishing, public-speaking, public-relations, marketing, advertising, law, or if you have patients or clients, any public-facing job really, you can learn tips from one of the best in the game (my Dad would say, ‘that’s a bit narcissistic, isn’t it?’ But, hey, I’m trying to grab your attention here).
Here’s how the series works:
I’ve already collected 20+ questions from talks I’ve given over the years and I'm adding to that list all the time.
I'll answer questions about my interview show One Plus One, but I’m also keen to take questions relating to my skills more broadly. I'm doing this to challenge myself. These areas could include storytelling, creativity, confidence, ambition and disappointment/failure.
I can’t do this alone! I want your questions. So if there’s anything you’ve wanted to ask, this is your chance.
I’ll post up to three times a week and if you follow my newsletter, FB or Twitter, I’ll alert you when a new post is up.
Here’s what you can do to help me, help you:
Sign up to my new bi-monthly newsletter. I'll post ideas relating to storytelling, life, books, motivation and cake!
Great question! As in news, we aim for fairness, balance and accuracy in producing an interview show.
We are quite organic: we record each interview for approximately 30 minutes and edit it to fit a 28 minute program slot, which is usually 26 minutes of interview. We may shorten answers because of time constraints or where the answer slows down the flow of the interview.
If we detect something that's potentially defamatory we consult the legal team. Hopefully, if there's an issue that isn't factual, I question that during the recording. But, whether someone is honest is a tricky one because our interviews rely on the memory, recollection and also the point of view of a guest.
Sometimes I may not agree with a guest's opinion, but it doesn't mean the opinion shouldn't be heard.
In a recent interview, author Blanche D'Alpuget discussed her essay On Lust where she described being molested at age twelve, by a judge (now deceased) who was in his fifties. She refused to see this as sexual abuse or to see herself as a victim.
This is from the program transcript:
Some viewers didn't like that. They felt I should have challenged Blanche further (the exchange continued but I didn't hammer into her point about whether the relationship was sexual abuse or not).
I found what she said confronting, but I also accepted the point of view that she didn't regard herself as a victim. I don't think you can change someone's mind by bagdering them. In fact, I wanted to understand the fear of her powerful and terrifying father.
I hope this answers your question. There will be FAQ's relating to this one coming up.
When I first started One Plus One in July 2010, I wondered why people would want to subject themselves to some quite personal questions. But you see, I really wanted to know the answers! I found the more I challenged myself with braver questions, the more generous the guest’s response.
I’ve said it before but it was veteran Channel Nine journalist Peter Harvey who I credit with first giving me ‘permission’ to ask deeper questions about his mortality. Peter died of pancreatic cancer in 2013. During our interview, he would finish a sentence, just before he finished a thought so that I would have to follow up with another question.
I regard this as a gift he gave me. And since that time, I've been given it over and over again.
Some things that delight me about interviewing:
having my research challenged or improved
when the guest reveals a surprising nugget of information
unexpected emotion (me and/or the guest)
forgetting I am recording an interview in a TV studio
What frustrates me?
I can get tongue-tied. I don’t have the gift of the gab.
After hundreds of interviews, I can’t predict what the audience will or won’t like
I’d like more (constructive) professional feedback
Many guests have had a poor start in life. This saddens me.
What motivates me?
Discovering amazing people who have never been interviewed
Finding and sharing human vulnerability
Constanly learning about different pathways people use in their lives
My decade as a foreign correspondent was the greatest gift of education I will ever receive. On last count, I think I’ve reported from more than twenty countries, excluding Australia.
When working for shows like Foreign Correspondent I often spent a day or two with the people I was reporting on. This gave me an insight into incredible lives so different from my own. I glimpsed life in a Palestinian refugee camp, what is was like to be the family of a young Israeli soldier killed in conflict, what it was like to live in a cave in the centre of China.
Being receptive to other points of view makes you less judgemental and helps you see the different sides to a story.
Reporting from Iraq after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 was a defining experience. I am not a particularly brave person. In those first few months I saw a lot of death. People even came up to me on the street to show me photographs of dead relatives (and I don’t mean when they were alive). I realised that many Iraqis were so traumatised, dead bodies were no longer shocking to them. I didn't enjoy being in war zones, but they teach you about the basics of what matters, of what humanity is.
As a child growing up in Hong Kong where my Dad was a newspaper editor, I awaited the arrival of the daily news under the front door.
The headlines fascinated me and I saw that bad stuff happens, no matter who you are.
We knew people who died when an apartment building near ours collapsed in heavy rain. Refugees fleeing China were attacked by sharks while swimming to freedom, the squatter huts (inhabited by poor people because there wasn’t enough housing) frequently went up in flames. A policeman lost his hand while detonating a bomb.
So in short, the greatest lessons have come from travelling widely and being curious.
As a young reporter, I stubbornly stuck to the questions in my notebook, I rarely listened to what was said to me before I opened my mouth.
I think many broadcasters fear silence. Silence is a sign that something has broken down. Now I use my questions - which are printed out and attached to my beloved clipboard - as a guide only.
Sometimes I barely refer to the questions.
If I’m caught in the moment of the guest's story, I think I’ve done my job well.
If you like a particular style of interview, read/listen or watch a lot of them.
I’m drawn to interviews that are a bit like mine; I like to feel I’m taken below the surface chat. I think a good political interviewer is someone who systematically works his/her way into a problematic issue which they’ve found by carefully circling their prey subject.