This is part four of the five-part Sonia Nazario Series for Writers. Read the rest of the series for writing insights from this Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist and author.
Mandy: You’ve said that Enrique wasn’t always forthcoming with his story because it was emotionally traumatic. Do you have any tips for future reporters? How do you persuade interviewees to share information that they may not want to share?
Sonia: I’m determined and persistent. I use every tool I have in my tool box to connect with someone.
#1 Make a Personal Connection
If you are Jewish, I’ll talk about my Polish-born Jewish mother. If you are from the middle east, I’ll start with how my father’s family is from Syria. If you are from Central America, I’ll discuss covering the wars there in the 1980s. I use every experience I have ever had to help connect and set someone at ease.
#2 Explain Why the Interview is Important
I take great pains to explain at the beginning of an interview why I want to do a story, why I think it’s important to educate Americans about a particular issue, how that person can help be a part of that.
#3 Do Your Homework
I spend three or four hours initially interviewing someone. I come prepared—I have read many studies on the subject and have 20-50 questions prepared. That signals to someone that their story is so important that I have done my homework. I’m not wasting your time.
#4 Use Active Listening Techniques
I’m always ready to go off-script with questions. I listen. I really listen. I smile, I engage fully. I am a genuinely curious person and interested in your answer. People can tell if you want to really hear what they are saying or don’t.
#5 Treat The Interviewee with Courtesy
I try to treat people the way I would want to be treated.
#6 Talk about Yourself Too
I make sure the flow of information is a two-way street. I feel it is unfair to ask someone to divulge so much about themselves without telling them something about me. Allowing people to ask me questions makes them feel they are in control of the process, so they are more likely to open up.
I once had a woman tell me she was divorcing her husband before her husband knew about it. My husband says people will tell me the most amazing things!
About Sonia Nazario
Up next from the series: 3 Tips for Future Reporters: How To Land The Job and Sway The Nation