• Going the Whole 10 Yards: On Interviewing Sources

    Posted Posted by Guest Writer in Strategies     Comments 2 comments

    By Jackson Michael

    Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach once said, “It takes a lot of unspectacular preparation to have spectacular results.” Though the Dallas Cowboy great was talking about football, the same can be said about writing, particularly when it comes to interviewing sources for a nonfiction project. For a writer, conducting an interview is both a privilege and a responsibility; a lack of preparation does a disservice to both your reader and your subject.

    My main objective with my book The Game before the Money: Voices of the Men Who Built the NFL was to document football history in what I believed the most accurate way possible—through the eyes of the men who played the game. Although I’ve been a lifelong fan and already knew much about the players, I wanted to know even more.

    My preparation before interviewing sources involved a great deal of research into player histories, digging even deeper into a topic I already knew well. Though I wrote a handful of staple questions to ensure running themes throughout the book, for each interview I also wrote personalized, chronologically ordered questions in order to provide insight into each individual’s personality, life history, and relationship with the game. [Tweet “”For a writer, conducting an interview is both a privilege and a responsibility” @JacksonMichael”]

    While I had to go with the flow at times, the framework I established helped me keep these interviews on-topic, and enabled me to obtain fascinating information that might otherwise have gone unspoken. I quickly learned how to let each person tell his own story, while still keeping the interview on the correct course.

    This method led to exciting results: Paul Hornung shared with me anecdotes about legendary coaches Frank Leahy and Bear Bryant; former stars such as Frank Gifford and Bart Starr took me deep inside their careers; Carroll Dale and Tony Lorick gave me valuable insight into the evolution of the game’s rules, including the changing heights of the goal posts. I learned that before NFL paychecks skyrocketed, players had to work offseason jobs to supplement salaries of between $10,000 and $15,000 per year. Even future Hall of Famers sold cars or worked in clothing stores.

    Roger Staubach was right: without unspectacular preparation, you won’t achieve spectacular results. When it comes to interviewing sources, a lack of prep work can lead to wandering, even incoherent, conversations, and showing up with only a few opening questions and winging the rest is often a mistake. Because of all of the unspectacular legwork I forced myself to conduct, I was able to honor these great men by documenting their stories while they are still alive to enjoy the recognition. [Tweet “”Without unspectacular preparation, you won’t achieve spectacular results” @JacksonMichael”]


    Jackson MichaelJackson Michael grew up in Madison, Wisconsin.  He is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and the Maxwell Football Club. The Game Before the Money: Voices of the Men Who Built the NFL is his first book. Michael worked for several years with the Austin Daze, as the alternative newspaper’s entertainment writer and music critic. He also conducted interviews for Tape Op magazine.

    He additionally enjoys a successful music career, having released solo five albums. He has recorded with Barbara K (Timbuk 3), Kim Deschamps (Cowboy Junkies) and Gregg Rolie (Santana, Journey). Also a skilled audio engineer, Michael has recorded albums for a number of Texas artists. He and his wife Lisa currently live in Austin, Texas.

    Follow Michael on Twitter.

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    A. Jackson

    This is helpful, thanks. In the past I’ve trusted myself to wing it; like, “I know my material and I know how to have a conversation, so what’s the big deal?” Some of the results were disastrous. I also get nervous talking to people who know more than me about the topic I’m chatting with them about. Do you have that problem?

    Jackson Michael

    Yeah, sometimes I get a little nervous. Mostly because I don’t want to look incompetent by asking a question that most professionals would know the answer to already. That’s where research helps tremendously. In the end though, we are there to learn about that person and their field of expertise. Also, we’re there to help readers learn as well. Keeping that in mind helps calm the nerves in that regard.

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