ESPN’s professional interview coach John Sawatsky is on a mission to change the way journalists ask questions. He has become famous for his exclusive three-day interview class that all ESPN broadcasters and journalists must attend.
Sawatsky, a former investigative journalist in Canada, never imagined he would leave his career as a journalist to become a teacher.
“It was never part of any plan and was actually the furthest thing from my mind. Then, in 1982, I was invited to show journalism students at Carleton University in Ottawa how to conduct an actual investigation and lead them on a project,” Sawatsky said. “Interviewing was a big part of it. It proved to be an eye-opening experience for me, and very transformative as I slowly learned what kinds of questions produced the best results and later why it was so.”
When Sawatsky discovered the reasons why certain questions led to better answers, he was able to develop guidelines for interviewers to practice.
“Soon I started teaching my newfound principles outside the classroom. It just took off, and before long I was holding sessions with working journalists across Canada and eventually around the world,” he said.
When Sawatsky landed the gig at ESPN in July 2004, he recognized how influential his teachings would become.
“It’s not realistically possible to change the entire world, however, it’s possible to change one little corner of the world, and journalism interviewing is my little corner,” he said. “That focus was the deciding reason I chose to come on staff at ESPN, since this is a wonderful place for anybody wanting to make an impact.”
Sawatsky’s most recent Interview Workshop included ESPN’s new college sideline reporter Molly McGrath, reporter Britt McHenry, espnW writer and The Trifecta host Jane McManus and espnW journalist and ESPN Radio host Sarah Spain, among others.
The session was particularly helpful to Spain, who recently signed a new contract and will host a new national weeknight ESPN Radio show, Izzy and Spain, with Israel Gutierrez starting tonight at 9 p.m. ET. In the video above, Spain discussed how she would now use Sawatsky’s lessons on-air.
“Most courses teach broadcasting from an output perspective, and focus – in one form or other – on how to be good presenters, and how to be good at supplying information,” said Sawatsky. “The Interview Workshop flips the roles and looks at life from the receiving end, which is equally important, although less glamorous and less heralded.”
Although he’s taught his workshop for many years now, knowing he has made a difference in someone’s career never gets old.
“It’s an eye-opening course for just about everybody who takes it. Afterward, people commonly say things like ‘I’ll never look at an interview again the same way.’ It tells me I’ve made an impact.”