Donald W. Reynolds National Center For Business Journalism

Two Minute Tips

Get better responses in man-on-the-street interviews

September 20, 2011

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This photo of CTV News reporters in Toronto is by Flickr user Aramil Liadon.

A McClatchy Newspapers story based on “man-on-the-street” interviews with small-business owners nationwide garnered attention recently because of its findings. With help from the chain’s reporters in Kansas City, Miami Herald, Biloxi, Sacramento and Charlotte, national economics correspondent Kevin G. Hall article asked whether excessive regulation and fear of higher taxes discourage small-business owners from hiring, as some have postulated. The answer, at least for this limited sample:

“None of the business owners complained about regulation in their particular industries, and most seemed to welcome it. Some pointed to the lack of regulation in mortgage lending as a principal cause of the financial crisis that brought about the Great Recession of 2007-09 and its grim aftermath.”

Kevin G. Hall, national economics correspondent, McClatchy Newspapers
Kevin G. Hall

Today’s Tip: Consider how you frame the question when doing man-on-the-street stories.

“We tried to ask the same question to all businesses we queried, and it was open-ended asking for an explanation. It wasn’t just a yes or no: ‘Are you hurt by regulation?’” Kevin says. “If they say they are hurt by a regulation, then ask for more specifics.”

In one case, asking for more specifics helped the reporters clarify what might have been a “yes” response because the respondent cited an EPA rule that changed 20 years ago.

Here’s another tip on getting better “man-on-the-street” interviews from Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter Janet Cho: “Treat the people you’re talking to as the ‘real’ experts.”

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