Final Tips For “The Art of the Interview” # Two

by admin on May 23, 2017


Do you want to influence the story? Then you need to talk to reporters.

Success With the Media

I wrote, “Success With the Media, Everything You Need to Survive Reporters and Your Organization” (available at Barnes and Noble and Amazon at because I believe that organizations need to look inward to get better media results.

I use contents from the book for this article.

Some believe that we should not talk to reporters. I maintain that not talking leaves you without influence; you are committing yourself to a negative story. The trick is to know how to talk to the media.

This is the eighteenth in a series of articles on, “The Art of the Interview.”


Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr.

Thirty-five years of supervising award-winning media relations, radio and television; over fifty national and regional awards. Post-Master’s Certificate of Advanced Study, Johns Hopkins University.

Final Tips for the Art of the Interview#2

  1. Television reporters only seem to feel in competition with other television reporters. Newspaper and radio journalists seem to feel the same way. A television reporter does not seem to care if the local newspaper introduces a big story. They will take the story off the wire and proceed to “work” it (introduce a unique aspect) as if it belonged to them all along. But if a competing television station introduces the same story, then look out! You may be accused by the competition for playing favorites. Just be aware that it happens.
  2. You cannot do this job without taking risks. In fact, everything involved in this profession is a risk. If you choose to do this job, then learn to accept the anxiety of risk-taking behavior. You are paid to make decisions in some of the harshest environments possible. Some of those decisions will work for you and some will not. Obviously, you are also paid to be right most of the time. Hopefully, you will have supportive bosses who understand the need for risk-taking and are supportive when a decision does not work.
  3. Backgrounds are important to the interview. Most television interviews are conducted in conference rooms. Be sure they look appropriate with the proper mix of flags and seals representing your agency. Do print interviews in your office; it’s more personal and it shows respect for the reporter.
  4. Another “background” suggestion involves interviews in your home. Yes, I did say your home. I accept evening and weekend interviews at home, especially during times of bad news. If the television station wants the interview at eight o’clock in the evening, then they are stuck with me at my house. I have never been “slammed” during an interview at home. The other strategy is to go to the television studio or newspaper office. It’s harder to knock you when you go to them. Think about it.
  5. Many of us will occasionally work from our homes when we have sick kids. This includes staying up part of the night with sick little ones (no one told me about this when I got married). Yet the pressures of the job seem to follow you wherever you go. If you cannot avoid the interview, insist on a scheduled time when you “think” that your sweet angel will be asleep. Do not succumb to their time pressures; you’re only human, and you can only do so much. If you screw up the quote, no one will give you credit for your circumstances. Protect yourself. The same advice applies to when you’re sick. I took a sick day years ago and received no fewer than fifteen work and media-related calls. Schedule a time for interviews when you feel you can safely do them, preferably late in the day. If the media cannot understand your need to compromise on the time, then do not do the interview.
  6. Pull off to the side of the road to do any cell phone interviews. I do not care how dire the emergency is; an additional ten minutes is not going to change the situation.
  7. Know your strengths and weaknesses. Know the best time of the day to do your interviews. Focus on what you do well, and stick to it.
  8. You are not and cannot be a subject matter expert on every aspect of your operation. Leave legal issues to the attorneys, medical concerns to the doctors, and computer crashes to the IT people. Prepare them well. This advice applies to most, but not all situations. As stated, sometimes you must speak for all.
  9. Do not hamper yourself by doing a news release for every event you encounter. You do not need a media release for most breaking stories. In fact, news releases can be a gigantic pain that add little to nothing to your ability to handle the event. The process of creating a release and the torture of the approval process can rob you of hours of valuable time. Put together some speaking points in bullet form. These are for your use only and not for distribution. For distribution purposes, read it to the Associated Press or another wire service; they will take it verbally over the telephone.
  10. Most media will not allow you to use them as a response to unflattering news coverage. They will not allow themselves to be “played against” their competition. This is a tactic that is sometimes suggested by superiors. It’s a very bad idea and it conveys a negative impression of your media ethics and sense of fairness.
  11. Another idea that is not only bad, but also dangerous, is an open attack on the media. It’s difficult to put all the times we disagree with reporters in context. Regardless of real or perceived transgressions, an attempt to humiliate one or more members of the media publicly will probably backfire. If you employ this tactic, then be absolutely, positively sure of your position and data. Bring in neutral sources and ask them for their opinion. Many executives become so emotionally involved in news stories that they cannot make objective appraisals of their own situation. They see a “mistake” on the part of the reporter, and they announce to the Smoke Blowers that it’s time to attack. My advice is that it’s rarely (never?) ever time to attack. Media executives will see this as an attempt to impugn their honor. If that happens, then look out, you are in for the ride of your life. Other media will not come to your rescue unless you offer them an ironclad case. Remember that all media work on the basis of a preponderance of evidence as a basis for filing stories. This means that anything less than your possession of a “smoking gun” can be interpreted as an attack on them all.
  12. If you have an ethical problem with a reporter, then confront him or her or his or her editors. Request a retraction. Offer them the opportunity to explain their position. But they may know more than you think they know. Be very careful.
  13. Timing is everything. What you do today may have to change tomorrow. National or local news may completely rearrange everything you planned to do. Big events, especially unexpected ones, can change everything! One of the principal attributes of successful spokespeople is the ability to be flexible and react properly to change.
  14. Take command of the interview. I’m not suggesting arrogance or combativeness. But you have every right to assert yourself professionally. Try to control the tenor and tone of the encounter. This is more often than not accomplished through being friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable. But it’s your command of the subject matter that allows for control most of the time.
  15. Know what the media is saying about your issue. That “friendly” reporter who interviewed you hours ago is now blasting you on the evening news. It’s quite possible that the reporter can influence others by his or her reporting. You need to know what they and everyone else are saying. During big events, someone needs to be assigned to the job of monitoring the media.
  16. There are times when a television station will have an “exclusive” about an issue that you and the organization consider relatively minor. But it’s an exclusive nevertheless. The media have a way of beating an exclusive to death through commercials and reports. They will run the same report over and over with minor variations. Depending on the degree of damage being done, I may ignore it and take the hit. Fortunately, this does not happen that often.
  17. If the television station spends an elaborate amount of time rearranging the room or setting up extensive lighting, then this is an indication that they see the interview as significant. I have walked into the interview setting, saw two or three lighting stands with the room rearranged, and immediately told myself that the interview will be tougher than expected. How they “set the stage” tells you what kind of interview they have in mind.
  18. Try to find a middle ground in any interview. Try to give them some of what they want. Try to get them to give you what you want. Shoot for the middle most of the time.
  19. Try to take the “high moral ground” during interviews. Base your responses on themes that serve you and the organization but resonate well with most citizens.
  20. Think strategically, not emotionally. Do not allow yourself to be baited. Do not get angry. Anger means that you have lost control. Your ego has no standing during an interview.
  21. I used to say that we should not ask media to put their requests in writing unless there is a very good reason. It makes you seem afraid of the give and take. But I find that an increasing number of my media encounters are happening via e-mail and text. I’m not quite sure where the new format is taking us and what it means, but it requires fewer phone encounters, which has implications for both sides.
  22. If you are asked to confirm or deny something, and you do not deny, then you automatically confirm it. They may not be able to use the information in the story yet. But as far as they are concerned, it’s confirmed.
  23. Smile “appropriately” during interviews, especially during television interviews. It makes you look in control and unafraid.

Next, we will turn to one of the most important aspects of dealing with bad news—breaking it first. Like the art of the interview, sometimes it’s not what you say; it’s how you say it.

Success With the Media

For more information on good organizational and media relations, see “Success With The Media: Everything You Need To Survive Reporters and Your Organization,” available from Barnes and Noble and Amazon at  Your reviews are appreciated.

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