Richland Source: Improving the script for tough political interviews

Using techniques designed to “complicate the narrative” and generate more useful, nuanced and complex candidate profiles


The Challenge

Interviewing political candidates has the potential to break from norms and get beyond talking points, but it takes intention, preparation and a desire to “complicate the narrative.”

For the 2022 midterms, Richland Source was covering a particularly contentious Senate race which included Republican candidate J.D. Vance. Increasingly, news media have experienced Republican candidates not returning their requests for interviews, or using interview opportunities to attack the press.

Richland Source wanted to get out of the traditional interview approach, which often optimizes for simplicity, conflict and pitting candidates against one another.

The Strategy

Using techniques from Solutions Journalism Network’s Complicating the Narrative curriculum, Richland Source devised a question list and approach to get to the underlying motivations, life experience and nuances of a candidate’s position. They created a roundtable interview for political candidates, which enabled multiple members of the Richland Source’s staff to be listening to better understand what candidates were trying to say, and collectively dig for nuance.

The Outcomes

The interviews they conducted with this approach were deemed “refreshing” by readers for their success at getting deeper information, uncovering where there’s more alignment between political competitors than it may seem, and allowing the public to better understand the tensions that candidates can hold in their own viewpoints. J.D. Vance was complimentary to the newsroom for their approach and appreciated the opportunity to get beyond the talking points.

The Lessons

The “how” of interviewing political candidates and public officials has immense opportunity for innovation. In order to create new and more useful reporting on candidates, newsrooms need to re-consider what their goals are for interviewing, how they can set up a dynamic to best achieve those results, and tell candidates that what their goals are so they’re aware that the interview will be different.

Learn More

The Solutions Journalism Network worked with Amanda Ripley and Hélène Biandudi-Hofer to generate curricula, toolkits and a fellowship based on Ripley’s landmark Complicating the Narrative essay. Ripley and Biandudi-Hofer also offer training and support to help people reimagine conflict through their company Good Conflict.