Journalist Cora Currier on Asking Questions

I’ve been enjoying listening to ProPublica’s podcast, The Breakthrough, recently, because it focuses as much on how journalists get their big stories, and how they work on them, as much as the stories themselves. I’m always on the lookout for lessons and tips for how to improve the UX/IA process, and the journalist Cora Currier has a great aside in the recent episode about secret FBI rule books:

Image of Cora Currier, reporter for the Intercept“I found often that coming at it from a bureaucratic angle was helpful, like asking ‘What about that, when you had to get approval?’ [You can] just get someone off on a tirade about their least favorite supervisor or something. When you talk to people about office politics, [it’s] often a way to get in and get talking about substantive things as well.”

This is a great lesson for the discovery process and user research. What can you ask first, to get somebody talking? Oftentimes, the best way to get the information you need is oblique, rather than direct.

Later in the interview, she observes:

“When you’re deep, deep, deep in a project like this, you start to think that all this is common knowledge. …You are baked into this topic, but your readers aren’t and the general public isn’t. It’s still worth doing.”

That’s perspective is hard to maintain in a serious research process, and it’s always important to look for ways to put yourself outside of the process and keep seeing what’s significant about it.