By Gregg McLachlan
Next time you do an interview, try to remember to use one of the most effective words in the history of conversation. Why? (read on)
Kids are great at asking open-ended questions. They're great at forcing adults to say something that means something. And all it usually takes is one word: Why.
"Daddy, I want some ice cream!"
"Sorry son, you can't have any!"
"Because I said so!"
"Because you have to eat your vegetables first!"
Because they're good for you!"
"If you don't eat your vegetables you won't be getting all those good vitamins that will make you grow up big and strong like your Dad."
It's strange to admit it, but a five-year-old has taken command of the above conversation (interview) in pursuit of answers. And it has been done with one word in a followup question: Why.
OK, the process between the parent and child can be a bit painful, but eventually, little Johnny gets an answer with some substance. In your interviews as a reporter, you certainly don't want to use why so often that it annoys someone. Pick your moments and places.
Why is a word that is so basic -- almost childlike -- that it can often be overlooked by reporters. It's a one-word question that can produce 1,001 answers.
Nobody is suggesting you pepper your interviews with why, why, why, why and never ask an intelligent question. But see the value in why. It's not a stupid question. It's a brilliant word for getting more from your interviews. It's a brilliant word for followup questions and/or starting questions: Why would you say such a thing? Why should the public care? Why should the public be interested in this idea? Why is this happening? Etc.
Why is why so important in a journalists' toolbox of interview skills?
Because it works. That's why.