You don’t have to be an investigative reporter to find yourself asking tough questions, but you can likely learn something from the way WFTV investigative reporter Christopher Heath does his job.
Heath, who has been at the Orlando station since 2013, says one thing you have to be prepared for is the non-answer.
“When faced with an interview subject who won’t respond to your question, ask it again, and again and again. Play dumb if you have to and say, ‘I’m not understanding…,'” said Heath.
In a story about a local business incubator getting additional money from the city, though the group already owes taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars, Heath used another technique for what he calls “the dodge.”
“Get your question on the air,” Heath said. “Be willing to point out the dodge and share how many times you asked the question.”
When it comes to holding public officials accountable, Heath has this advice.
“Ask for interviews early, ask in writing and then document every attempt. You can also ask if there is a written statement option.”
If that doesn’t get you what you need, you may have to push harder.
“Ask for the official’s public schedule; this will terrify them because they know it’s me getting him in the hallway or after a meeting,” Heath said. “Or look at the schedule for public meetings, and no, that’s not an ambush. If I go to their house or church, it might be, but at a city council meeting, it’s never an ambush.”
Heath says it’s important for every reporter to know his or her rights when it comes to public records or laws governing access to meetings and documents. He also suggests having a public records request form ready to go at a moment’s notice, so you don’t have to scramble to get that prepared. Finally, he recommends demonstrating what happens behind the scenes to the audience.
“Process is part of the story; show your work.”