David RandallDavid Randall's top tips for reporters

Leading British journalist David Randall offered top tips for young reporters during a special guest lecture at the University of Sheffield.

The author of one of the most popular journalism text books, ‘The Universal Journalist’, Randall defined three key qualities he had noted in leading writers during his research for another of his books ‘The Great Reporters’.

Great reporters, he said:

  • Are avid readers, of books, magazines and the web: “You can’t be a great reporter if you are not a compulsive reader.”
  • Have the ability to apply their intelligence to the task in hand – “It is the defining mark of a great reporter”.
  • Are sparing in their use of quotes: “A reporter who is not sure of the story or uncertain as to what happened will pack their story with tons of quotes.”

Randall started his career on the Croydon Advertiser, where he became the paper’s editor in 1980, before joining the Observer as deputy sports editor in 1981. Today he is a senior writer and executive at the Independent on Sunday.

Top tips

He offered a packed house of student journalist some reporting tips:

  • On interviews: “Never use the ‘i’ word - ‘interview’. It has bad associations and makes people nervous, so don’t use it. Chat to people, try to establish a point of contact, but do it naturally, not with a swagger.”
  • On silence: “Silence is one of the most useful techniques. If someone thinks they have finished answering your question, look expectantly but don’t say anything. I can guarantee that eventually they will carry on talking. Why? Because it’s uncomfortable.”
  • On dumb questions: “The dumbest question in journalism is ‘How do you feel’. If someone has had their family wiped out in a gas explosion or have won £20 million on the lottery it is obvious how they feel. Don’t ask it.”
  • On storytelling: “We are storytellers. There has to be a narrative, a chronology. In a complex issue you have to understand the order of events and then you can tell the reader a story. We’ve been programmed since we were 15 months old to respond to this technique.”

Randall’s lecture on November 1 is the latest in a series of guest lectures featuring leading industry figures organised by the Department of Journalism Studies.