Northwestern students urged to “get tough” by legendary British journalist

October 25, 2010

Northwestern University in Qatar students were urged to “get tough” and  to hold public figures to account in interviews Thursday by Doha Debates chairman and former BBC journalist Tim Sebastian.

An interview is not a conversation or an argument, Sebastian said. It is a “cross examination on the basis of facts.”

“You  should see yourselves as the case for the prosecution, and look for the  mistakes, the flip-flops or changes of opinion and policies,” he said.  “You must identify where they have fallen short, where they haven’t  delivered and pick holes in their arguments.”

“You are there to  ask hard questions on behalf of the public who can’t be there to hold  the interviewee accountable for his or her actions and behavior,”  Sebastian said.

Journalists must go into interviews having researched their interviewees’ positions and know where they stand beforehand.

“The only way to stop the lying is by bringing people up short with information you have in your hands,” he said.

Hard-hitting  journalism, Sebastian acknowledged, is difficult. “If you do it  properly this is a very, very rough business,” he said.

NU-Q graduates, however, will have the opportunity to work in a country where debate and free speech are improving, he said.

“I  have been heartened by the growth of debating in Qatar – from the  debating societies that have been set up to the strong performances of a  national side in the World Championships competition, which was  recently held here in Doha,” Sebastian said.

The visit by Sebastian provided a chance for students to learn about interviewing from a recognized expert.

“Interviewing  is one of the basic skills students learn at Northwestern University in  Qatar, and it was a tremendous benefit to our students to have them  learn from an expert like Tim Sebastian,” said NU-Q Senior Associate  Dean for Journalism Richard Roth.

The lecture with Sebastian not  only provided great insight into a skill that students learn while  reporting stories at NU-Q, but also into the preparation and skill it  takes to interview high-profile and very skilled communicators, Roth  said. “It was very generous of Sebastian to take time out of his  schedule to speak with our students,” he added.