A puzzled journalist in the middle of doing an interview

Ask the stupid question, and other journalism advice

Two handy tips for journalists

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

The Atlantic's Helen Lewis on asking stupid questions as a journalist:

The main reason people don’t do this is that they want to seem cool, or knowledgeable, in front of their interviewees. They don’t want to risk asking a stupid questions. Always ask the stupid question. Not least because if you don’t, you might come back, write up your piece and face an editor going, “so what did she mean by saying she lost her virginity to a goat?”

I could not agree with this more. Back when I was a section editor, working with younger journalists, I did my best to drill this into them, not least because more than once I caught out a bullshitter by asking them to explain what they meant by something I didn't understand, and exposed the fact that they didn't really know what they were saying.

However, this advice was news to me, and is worth listening to:

Park downhill. At the end of every day, finish your writing by stopping halfway through a thought—maybe even halfway through a sentence. That way, there is a small task to complete the next day, helping you navigate the hardest movement in a writer’s life: sitting down at your desk.

I started this blog post yesterday.


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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.