Mike Tirico loves talking about interviewing. I’ve interviewed him a handful of times, and this time it’s recorded (thank you Zoom). What I love about talking to Tirico is that he openly shares his best practices with students and gives students skills they can immediately use in their reporting.
As Tirico figures it, 65% of his life has been telling stories and interviewing folks. “I love it every day,” he said. “The job still wakes me up with a great passion to learn and get better at it.” Tirico has emphasized this in every interview I have done with him: he is always trying to learn more and to get better. In the past, when a room full of student journalists hear him talk about this, they realize in that moment that there isn’t an apex where you are trying to get to as a journalist. Journalism is a continuous — and powerful — process of learning and improving.
Tirico grew up in New York City, and he knew from a young age that he wanted to be a sports broadcaster. His journey as a journalist started at Syracuse and went on to include working at ESPN, ABC and NBC. In short, he’s covered football, basketball, golf, tennis, hockey and world cup soccer. He is currently the lead primetime host of the Olympics on NBC and lead play-by-play for Notre Dame Football on NBC.
Tirico’s resume is impressive.
What is even more impressive is that he cares about our student journalists, and he knows that our students are journalism’s future.
Tirico believes that “Who, What, Where, When, Why and How” still matter; they are at the core of all that we do as journalists. But there is more than these fundamental questions.
In this interview, Tirico created a new acronym on the spot: PLC. Tirico explained that being a journalist is all about preparation, listening and curiosity. Tirico has explained to me before how he uses stacks and stacks of notecards to record information about the athletes he covers; he is always striving to know more about who they are as people, which is why he is so good as a reporter.
“Try to triangulate the person,” Tirico said. “Can you tell me something about the person? What makes them a person, not just a line on the roster?” Instead of just knowing that someone on the football team is a certain number, height, weight, from this town, etc., he finds out what they are studying. What do they want to do after college? He wants to be able to talk about them as more than just the athlete on the field.
His advice is not just for sports; it applies to features as well. He encourages students to think about the people whom they are interviewing.
“What makes so and so tick? Do they like coffee? Do they like tea? There’s always something unique about each person,” Tirico said. “When you can dig long enough and deep enough to find that, it’s rewarding to us as journalists and hopefully it makes our viewers, listeners, readers more excited about what we are going to do next.”
In addition, Tirico emphasizes that the most important trait in an interview is being a great listener.
“If I am doing a long interview, I come with the first question and the third question, but I hope that my second question comes off the first answer,” Tirico said. “It forces me to be in the mode of listening.” When his second question comes off the first answer, the person being interviewed knows that they are being listened to. This approach makes all of the difference for everything that follows in the interview.
The third part of his acronym is curiosity. “If you are curious about anything then you can be someone who can interview anyone on any topic and make it appealing to the person who really cares,” Tirico said. “If you can find what’s going to be a magnet to someone who has an interest in this sport, then [you] can have a better interview. So, I need to have a little curiosity created even if it’s not there naturally.”
On television, Tirico makes interviewing look easy. But, after the interviews are done, Tirico replays interviews in his head and can see places where he wishes he would have asked a different question or asked a question in a different way. He is always reflecting on his work, and he is always learning.
“The great thing about interviewing is that it is such an inexact science,” Tirico said. He reminds us though that the more you interview, the more comfortable you feel and the better you get.
In Tirico’s direct address to young journalists he offers encouragement. “You sign up to cover history as it is happening,” Tirico said. “Do not get pushed off the trail. The world will always need journalists to document what is going on. There’s never been a more important time for journalists, and there’s never been a better time for journalists.”