Sunday, May 20, 2007

Sessions with Eric Nalder

Eric Nalder of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer hosted three separate sessions for this year's conference. His first session, Loosening Lips: The Art of the Interview, may have been the most popular. With a slow and somewhat hypnotic cadence, Nalder described how he fine-tuned his natural instincts and became "a student of the interview."

First, he reminded the audience that the research a reporter does before the interview is as important as the interview itself. Nalder accused journalist today of being too disorganized. He went on to describe the extensive backgrounds he compiles before each interview. He emphasized to the audience how this preparation can empower the reporter and project confidence to the interviewee. Nalder also stressed the importance of choosing the place, time and setting of the interview so that you are in control.

Control is key in an interview and Nalder is a master of control. As he slowly walked us through some of his interviews, the audience seemed breathless. After hearing Nalder explain his thought process, the questions he asks and the ways in which he manipulates his subjects, I saw a look of awe cross over many of the faces around me. One attendee summed it up best when he said, "I've been calling myself an investigative reporter, but after listening to Nalder I realize that I have only been scratching the surface of things. He (Nalder) is amazing."

Nalder gave examples of how to deal with reluctant sources, how to drain a source, and how to get it on the record. He also gave examples of techniques such as mirroring, hypnosis, and ratcheting.

In his second session, Investigative Reporting, Nalder and Tom Robbins (Village Voice) both gave tips on how they work their way into organizations.

Nalder's last session was Sunday's keynote speech. During this session, he tied together everything he had spoken about on Saturday with the added element of how to operate in a hurry. Nalder reminded reporters that often your best sources are your co-workers. Use your fellow journalists. Many times they'll have a key piece of information and can point you in the right direction.

Nalder gave great examples of "reporting by hanging around"-a technique he used at one point to take over a warrant unit of the Seattle Police Dept. In a Q&A following the keynote, everyone seemed enthralled as Nalder led them step-by-step through the process of taking over an organization. The audience was obviously impressed with Nalder's natural ability to notice the smallest details combined with his highly developed organizational methods.

As Nalder's time ran out, a small murmur of protest rose from the audience. We all recognized the value of what we were hearing and hated to have it come to an end.

To read more about what Nalder refers to as "beautiful techniques for interviewing" go to

Quotes from Eric Nalder
"The greatest obstacle you're going to run into in any interview is yourself. You need to quiet your ego."

"Avoid arguing. Learn to let their anger flow over you."

"The most important question that you ask a person in any interview is-how do you know that? The next important question is -how else do you know that?"

" Documents can lie. You need to double-check everything, even the spelling of a name."

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