If the inverted pyramid is a standard way of writing a “just the facts” news article, the Q-and-A interview is a close cousin, particularly for magazines. Since 2006, Quill has used its “Ten” feature to interview what is tagged “people with some of the coolest jobs in journalism.”
Here are 10 questions from people featured over the years. (Note the 2002 piece with Vanessa Leggett was from a jailhouse interview that ran as a Q-and-A, though technically before the regular “Ten” feature began.)
Charles Sennott, co-founder and executive editor of GlobalPost (Jan/Feb 2010):
QUILL: A lot of non-profit news initiatives center on collaboration and content sharing. But you’re doing the same, and you have partnerships with multiple outlets, from CBS News to the PBS NewsHour. How important is collaboration to GlobalPost and the general idea of balanced international news?
Partnerships are the future. And they’re important for us in our most ambitious international projects. For example, one we did as a partnership with Public Radio International and the program “The World” was on the Taliban. When I went to Afghanistan in June 2009, I did a four-part radio series, 10 minutes each part. The audio was the basis from which we built our multimedia presentations on GlobalPost. But then you can’t just take a good radio piece and turn it into multimedia. I don’t believe in the model where one person (or outlet) does everything. That can create mediocrity.
Ken Lowery and Mark Hale, founders of the parody Twitter account @FakeAPStylebook and co-authors of “Write More Good” (March/April 2011):
QUILL: For the people, even journalists, out there who want to get into comedy writing, and perhaps do it through social media, too, what advice do you have?
Write all the time, and share what you write with like-minded friends. All of us had more “serious” projects we were working on when (Fake AP Stylebook) blew up; again, FAPS was a complete accident that started out as a joke among friends. Because we were all comfortable with each other and shared a similar sensibility, we were able to build this thing as a group, keep everyone on board and negotiate a book deal with no hard feelings.
But this whole thing would’ve sunk a year ago if we weren’t already writing all the time in a variety of disciplines. We count among our number comic book writers, comic strip artists, a Web series writer and a hip-hop artist. We worked and worked in humble obscurity for a long time, which can be discouraging. But all that work — treating writing like WORK, not like a visitation from The Muse — prepared us for when we finally stepped on that landmine.
Tracy Record, founder and editor of West Seattle Blog (Nov/Dec 2010):
QUILL: There’s a lot of doom and gloom out there — the death of journalism and credible news and all of that. Frankly, it’s mostly misinformed noise. From someone who is part of the “future of news” ecosystem online, trying to find a way to make it work financially, how do you respond to people who say journalism as we once knew it is dead?
What we generally say is that for one, the advertising business model is not dead. The question is whether you can evolve your own organization to adapt. Even my old job, for example, they didn’t need someone in that position. In (AOL’s) Patch, with regional editors and regional ad managers, they’re not learning from the mistakes of the past (by having that kind of infrastructure). We came across this a lot when the (Seattle) Post-Intelligencer stopped printing, everyone was lamenting the loss of investigative journalism. The truth is, there wasn’t a whole lot of that happening anyway. In some cases a lot of civic issues are getting more coverage (now).
Kelly McBride, Poynter Institute ethics group leader (March/April 2010):
QUILL: Currently there’s discussion about updating journalism codes of ethics — SPJ’s included — to account for newer digital considerations. What do you think both sides of the debate (pro and con) should consider?
I think it’s really hard to have those conversations these days, because many of the traditional organizations that have upheld these codes are now fighting for survival. And at the same time, organizations that are thriving, like the Huffington Post or Talking Points Memo, are operating under a completely different construct. If you read SPJ’s Code of Ethics, there is a large distinction and firewall between editorial and business. I think that’s a luxury that we used to have. We need to come up with a way for business and editorial to collaborate more that won’t undermine the values we’ve always upheld. But I think it’s wrong to say we need to come up with new values.
Rosette Royale, assistant editor, Real Change, and 2009 Sigma Delta Chi Award winner (Nov/Dec 2009):
QUILL: Your award-winning series was a three-part, in-depth narrative investigation. Did you set out trying to produce that expansive of a piece?
Not at all. It was a news brief in the police blotter (about a suicide), and my editor asked if I wanted to look into it. My intention was to look into homeless sex offenders. When I spoke to the sheriff’s office they said Bret wasn’t homeless, and they gave me his address. And I said, OK, this is not about what I think it’s about. I learned to let go of assumptions. I learned that investigative journalism can be really fun, too. And looking for the Department of Corrections documents was completely and ridiculously intimidating. I sorted through about 1,100 pages of documents to get 600 I could use.
Nina Totenberg, NPR legal affairs correspondent (Jan/Feb 2006):
QUILL: People were glued to the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearing in 1991, a story broken by you after the initial hearings were complete. What stands out in your mind as the biggest moment during that event?
In those hearings, I was under so much pressure because there were lots of Republicans just furious about my getting this story. I had to interview Sen. (John) Danforth, and he looked like he wanted to eat me for lunch. The Senate even launched an investigation into the leak. I never considered it a leak since I worked pretty hard to get the story. As a result, there was an enormous focus on me. I didn’t want to give them an opportunity to question my professionalism and integrity. Without a doubt, the two biggest moments were when Anita Hill came in to testify, read her statement and took questions, and when Clarence Thomas called the proceedings a “high-tech lynching.”
Jim Romenesko, media reporter/blogger for Jim Romenesko.com, formerly with Poynter (March 2006):
QUILL: What are the guidelines for getting into Romenesko? Walk us through a typical day of posting.
A story simply has to interest me to get on the page. I start out shortly after 5 a.m. and go through my bookmarks of major newspaper websites and blogs. I go through my Google News Alerts, Yahoo News Alerts and email. If there’s time in the day, I hit the websites of second- and third-tier newspapers. I post letters and memos throughout the day also — generally up until 5 p.m. Daily visits range from about 65,000 to 90,000 — up from about 14,000 when I started with Poynter.
Hannah Allam, McClatchy’s Cairo bureau chief, formerly with Knight-Ridder (June/July 2006):
QUILL: What advice would you share with journalists interested in an overseas assignment?
Definitely have language skills. I speak French and can get by in Arabic. Watch foreign media — BBC, Irish Television, Voice of America. On my laptop, I have bookmarked “Yahoo Iran” and “Yahoo Iraq,” and I also receive an email bulletin of Al-Jazeera in English. To avoid parachute journalism, focus on the region and get your hands on anything you can read about this area and its history. Read its literature and poetry because that gives you something in common and can turn an interview into a conversation.
Lester Holt, weekend anchor, “NBC Nightly News” and “Today” (September 2006):
QUILL: How important is mentoring in developing young journalists?
Within the newsroom there are kids starting out or new reporters, and sometimes we veterans tend to lose patience with them. But it’s our responsibility to nurture them along. I was fortunate and got some huge breaks. I was reporting news at age 22. I was young and made a lot of mistakes, but good people were there setting me straight, helping me not make the same mistakes again.
Vanessa Leggett, crime writer jailed for refusing to turn over confidential notes to federal authorities (Jan/Feb 2002):
QUILL: Do you think of yourself as a martyr at this point?
No, I never have. I’m just doing what I hope anyone else similarly situated would do. I mean, you tell your sources you’re going to protect them, and if you say it, you should mean it. And I’m angry, too. I’m angry at the government for doing this to me. They could do their own work, and I think it’s very unfair for them to hang this on me.