News conferences are part of every journalist’s work life. Some reporters can’t go a week without covering several–largely because the newsmakers on their beat hold group sessions regularly but rarely schedule one-on-ones.
It’s not easy to get good material from a news conference, but some journalists are skilled at it. What’s their secret? Good follow-ups.
Bob Holt (above right, in blue shirt) covers sports for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and is known as the king of the follow-up. If he doesn’t get a good answer to a question, “he’ll ask it three or four different ways,” Ron Higgins of the New Orleans Times-Picayune told Al.com.
There’s a fine line between pressing for an answer and just hogging time, but Holt appears to have avoided alienating his colleagues by combining a “folksy Midwest charm and aggressive interviewing methods.”
People kind of make fun of me for, I don’t know, wearing people down. I’m not comparing myself to [late CBS newsman] Mike Wallace at all, but if you ask someone enough questions … I just have a natural curiosity that I think every reporter should have. I just like to ask questions.
Those questions are carefully researched and planned, and that’s the real key to Holt’s success. He also packs a lot of confidence and doesn’t take it personally when a coach takes offense at a question.
My thing is if a coach will give me access, then I don’t mean he can kick me in the face or anything, but if I have access, I don’t mind a coach unloading on me. As long as there’s a give and take to it. As a matter of fact, a lot of times it can be pretty healthy.
After more than 30 years on the sports beat, Holt has earned the right to ask more than one follow-up. The next time you cover a news conference, take note of the best answers and then look at the question that led to the answer. There’s an art to asking productive questions, and it can be learned.