The journalism revelation: Interviewing uncovers new perspectives

Penelope Zhang (right) interviews a volunteer during the annual Evanston Fourth of July parade. Photo by Kevin Du

When Julianne Sun entered the Medill-Northwestern Journalism Institute, she expected an intense writing program. What happened over the next five weeks was not only an intense writing program but also one that challenged her with situations she had never encountered.

Interviewing was among the biggest challenges for the Brookfield, Wisconsin, cherub.

Cherubs were given interviewing tasks from the beginning of the program, starting with the Fourth of July parade assignment. Under the scorching sun, they had to roam Central Street in Evanston and approach strangers to strike up interviews. Though terrified and nervous, Sun pushed herself out of her comfort zone and took a leap.

“I threw away all my dignity,” Sun said. “I told myself, ‘I’m going to be the most annoying person in the world.’”

How did she manage to overcome her fears?

“Deadlines,” Sun said.

After each assignment was announced during the program, cherubs had to plan ahead to meet specific deadlines, Sunday 12:55 p.m., for example, and to stick to them.

Cassandra Gutierrez of Chicago lacked reporting experience before the program outside of a few interviews. That changed fast.

“I have done it a lot more at Medill than in my life put together,” she said.

Gutierrez thought skillful writing was the key to success in journalism.

“I always thought journalism was about how good your writing is,” she said. “I now realize that it’s not about writing an English paper. It’s about being straight to the truth. With that also comes asking good questions. You have to know how to interview people.”

Lynn Yang of Beijing said, “Before I started this program, from the back of my mind I always thought journalism should be more concentrated in writing.”

Yang advised future cherubs to “keep calm and carry on.”

“Have patience, trust yourself, and when you encounter difficult people during phone interviews, try to guide them to the right track,” Yang said.

Sun said the experience was worthwhile because it helped her grow as a journalist.

“In the end, I understood why they made us do it,” she said. “It’s done to show you that journalism is not about sitting in your comfortable little desk and asking people for quotes. It’s getting out there and getting rejected, finding multiple stories for an angle and working on a deadline.”