Sharon Hartin Iorio
Wichita State University
One time-honored tradition of journalism is the street interview. To do a street interview, a reporter goes to a public place, stops people by chance, and asks each one a single question about an important issue of the day. This very simple form of reporting community reaction illustrates three pivotal features of the qualitative research method called focused interviewing. First, the reporter seeks out everyday citizens, not government officials, high-ranking business leaders, or social elites. Second, the reporter asks each person the same question in the same way. Third, the resulting news report comes directly from the words of those interviewed. The social science method of focused interviews, however, is not merely an extended form of the street interview.
The street interview can produce no more than the brief, snapshot opinions of those willing to share their views. Focused interview methodology is a qualitative research tool that can elicit in-depth responses and identify commonalities among the replies people give. The off-the-cuff comments picked up from street interviews are merely interesting opinions of individuals. The purpose of the focused interview is not only to identify and report, like the street interview, but also to interpret and show any shared insights found among the individuals' replies. The focus is to uncover accurately how a group of interviewees understand a problem or what they believe about a certain topic. The actual interview process is personal and conducted one-on-one to draw out each individual's unique viewpoint (Merton, Fiske, & Kendall, 1956/1990).