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Reporting tips from Wolf Blitzer

CNN's Wolf Blitzer has reported on major stories from all over the world.
CNN's Wolf Blitzer has reported on major stories from all over the world.
  • iReport Boot Camp challenges iReporters to improve storytelling chops, get story on
  • CNN's Wolf Blitzer shares advice on being a journalist and tips on covering the perfect story
  • For all things boot camp, visit the iReport boot camp page here

Editor's Note: This piece is part of a series about storytelling and reporting skills called iReport Boot Camp. In this edition, CNN's Wolf Blitzer shares his advice on being a journalist and reporting. Read up, then give boot camp a try.

(CNN) -- When looking for great journalism advice, why not get it from someone who has been in the business for almost 40 years? We got CNN's Wolf Blitzer, anchor of "The Situation Room," to answer questions about being a journalist and to share tips on covering the perfect story. Blitzer is an Emmy Award-winning anchor for CNN and is also a recipient of the Peabody Award for his Hurricane Katrina coverage, the Alfred I. duPont Award for his coverage of the tsunami disaster in Southeast Asia and an Edward R. Murrow Award for CNN's September 11 coverage. See what he had to say below, and then apply some of his advice to your CNN iReport boot camp story!

Being a journalist

Q: What and/or who inspired you to become a journalist?

A: When I finished grad school, I sort of fell into journalism. Someone mentioned that there was an entry-level job at the Reuters News Agency. I applied, and, to my amazement, I got the job.

Q: And when did you first decide you wanted to be a journalist?

A: It took only a few weeks for me to catch the journalistic bug. I realized that I loved asking questions and filing reports. I had been a news junkie my whole life, even as a young boy growing up in Buffalo, New York, and now I was getting paid to follow the news.

Picking a story to cover

Q: How do you know when a story is worth covering?

A: My rule of thumb is that if I am interested or intrigued by something, others will be as well.

Q: What's your favorite story of those you have covered?

A: I have loved covering lots of stories. I don't have one favorite. Among my favorites: the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the collapse of the apartheid regime in South Africa, all of the U.S. presidential elections over the years because I love politics. I love covering stories that have huge historic impacts.

Q: Where are some good places to look for story ideas?

A: I speak to a lot of people and go to a lot of websites looking for tips.

Q: Where have you found your best stories?

A: My best stories come from well-placed sources who point me in the right direction.

Finding and talking with sources

Q: How do you encourage people to be a source and talk to you?

A: If you are a reliable, honest journalist, sources will open up and trust you and share good information.

Q: What's your best advice for getting someone to speak on the record, and do you ever have to protect them?

A: My best advice is simply to be honest with the sources.

Q: In what circumstances, if at all, is it appropriate to keep a source's details off the record -- and is there such a thing?

A: Some information is understandably very sensitive; anything that could lead to physical harm or death, for example, is something that I would keep off the record. We may be journalists, but we are also human beings.

Q: Have you ever had trouble finding sources for a story?

A: I have been very fortunate in developing excellent sources over the years. It comes with experience.

Q: What types of sources are crucial for a good story?

A: The best sources are the ones who are deeply involved in the stories and know a great deal about them.


Q: What tips do you have for getting people to get comfortable and open up?

A: My rule of thumb is to be polite but firm in asking the questions and trying to make sure I get the answers.

Q: What is the one piece of advice you wish you were taught about interviewing that you had to learn on your own?

A: The most important thing is to listen to the answer and follow up when appropriate.

Q: How do you take notes and make sure you have the best quotes?

A: The best thing is to record the interview so you can go back and check the quotes.

Q: Do you know shorthand?

A: No. But I can scribble quickly.

Q: What are some things that could go wrong during an interview, and how do you prepare for such possibilities/steer things back on track?

A: Occasionally, you will irritate the person and that person will want to end the interview. If that happens, you try to persuade that person to stick around for more questions.

Editing your stories

Q: It's tough to cut down and/or critique your own writing. What advice do you have for doing that?

A: Have someone else do the editing. My dad always said: "Two heads are better than one."

Q: What is the most challenging thing about writing for you, and how do you overcome issues that come up?

A: I tend to overwrite; I need a good editor.

Q: Describe your writing process. Do you do it in one session?

A: I usually do it in one session. I don't dwell on it.

Q: Do you have any favorite narrative techniques?

A: I like to tell the story and get to the point quickly.

Headline writing

Q: What are your personal rules of thumb for a good headline?

A: Grab the attention of the readers; make them want to read on.

Q: What's the best advice you've ever been given for a good headline or tease?

A: Make them want more.