Techniques Used By Professional Interviewers

Drastically different interview techniques are used by professionals throughout the journalistic world, yet they are all aware of how to utilize them effectively so that the material they obtain from an interview is beneficial. By looking at two journalists in particular; Louis Theroux and Jeremy Paxman, we can analyze their styles and add reasoning to why they are applied to a given situation.

Louis Theroux’s questioning style would be described as informal, unorthodox and unconventional which is evident in his documentary ‘Fresno: The City Addicted to Crystal Meth,’ that sees him immersed into the world of hardcore drug addicts. The types of questions in which he uses are fairly closed questions, for example; ”You smoke about a gram a day?” whilst talking to the girl pulled over for minor violations by the police. However, it’s his conversational style, the frequency of his questioning and the ability to question the interviewees’ responses and build upon what they say that broadens the answer- this is evident at the start of the programme when Louis talks to the drug addict, by reiterating what he had just said and heightening the tone of his voice at the end of the statement; ”You took so much meth it affected your nervous system?”  This forms itself into a question which causes the interviewee to elaborate. Another device he uses is hesitating after the person responds, forcing them to carry on- as seen when Louis is talking to Leanne at the rehab facility. When speaking to Carl at the needle exchange programme, Louis follows up on Carl’s answers by using ”Really?” to coax them to continue aswell. Louis Theroux expresses a certain naivety and awkwardness that those around him may feel less threatened and more welcoming to allow him to be a part of their world- as was the case when he was at Kevin’s house. Due to his height he never tries to stand over the person he’s interviewing. He does this in two ways; creating distance between them and also hunching his shoulders downwards, which makes him less intimidating, as he does again when he meets Dennis and his sister.

Jeremy Paxman, on the other hand, uses more open and leading questions to exact information. His interview with Conrad Black demonstrates this with various examples including; ”Do you not think that a man who has been found guilty by due process of Law ought to be slightly penitent?” Used as one of Paxman’s opening gambits to Mr Black, it forces him to defend and explain his actions. Closed questions are used as blunt, sharp statements that challenge Conrad Black, as is the case when Paxman states; ”But you are a convicted fraudster?” Unlike Louis Theroux, Paxman’s rapport with his interviewee is purely professional. On one occasion, Mr. Black, becoming ever more angered as the interview goes on due to Jeremy’s questioning, remarks; ”…And actually being able to endure a discussion like this without getting up and smashing your face in which most people would do….” Paxman smoothly replies; ”Well, you go ahead…” His relaxed, calm demeanor portrays someone who is in control of the situation and is able to adapt through the course of an interview. When things get heated on both sides, like the instance Mr Black calls Jeremy Paxman a ‘gullible fool’, Paxman cleverly takes back control of the situation by lowering his voice, leaning into Conrad Black and slowing the pace down completely, thus restoring order.


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