Do you want to influence the story? Then you need to talk to reporters.
The majority of local radio and television reporters will go out of their way to make you feel comfortable.
These observations, however, do not always apply to national or international television crews covering tough issues.
You should never be off your guard.
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 https://amzn.com/151948965X) 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 thirteenth in a series of articles on, “The Art of the Interview.”
Leonard A. 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.
Local Radio and Television Reporters: Fairer Than You Think
The majority of local radio and television reporters will go out of their way to make you feel comfortable. For most television journalists or those conducting talk-radio shows, it makes them look good to make you look good.
I fully understand that many will not accept my suggestion that local television crews want to make you look good. But in thirty-five years of doing thousands of television interviews, I found that it’s in everyone’s best interest to produce a great video segment with as little friction as possible.
Local reporters understand that they need to build a relationship with you as to the current event, and future stories. Relationship building is a two-way street. They simply don’t want to burn their bridges; you may be more important to them than you realize.
Courtesies extended are often in their best interest. However, you can’t count on graciousness, and you need to be prepared for all possibilities. Preparation is the key element for a successful interview.
If you stumble while filming a taped interview, television crews will often stop and allow you to try again. The radio reporter doing a recorded telephone interview will let you do the session over until you feel comfortable with the results.
They want good, precise, informative statements because it’s good storytelling. It also helps greatly when they don’t have to edit your responses.
Needless to say, this treatment is afforded to novices and people they perceive as cooperative and honorable. They have to interview you in the future and they, like you, are looking to develop goodwill.
Combative individuals and those representing scandalous stories will not receive the same treatment.
You should never count on these courtesies for every interview.
All of us have a horror story etched in our minds of a local camera crew running after someone for an “ambush” interview. You see the reporter banging on the door of a home or the window of a car trying to get quotes.
These examples are exceptions, not the rule. In thirty-five years of talking to the media, I have never experienced an ambush interview.
You should never be off your guard. The obvious danger of a television interview is that the crew is in your office, and not on the telephone (yes—you can invent an excuse to get off the phone). Reporters will always ask for ten minutes and stay thirty or longer.
Camera operators will often tell you when the camera is on or off, though you should ask to be sure.
However, they rarely remind you that the microphone on your lapel was on 10 minutes before and 10 minutes after the “formal” interview. Most people in the media relations field will tell you that the interview is never over until the news crew gets in their vehicle and leaves.
Offer to carry some of their equipment to the elevator or ensure that their parking pass is stamped or walk them to the front door. You would be surprised at what a little courtesy can do for good relations.
Be Careful with the Nationals
These observations, however, do not always apply to national or international television and radio crews covering tough issues. Local media try not to burn bridges. They know that they will return for future interviews. They may need you far more than you need them.
National reporters do not hold similar expectations. They can afford to be as aggressive as they want to be. You may never see them again. With national media, you have to prepare for the most difficult of interviews. Be especially wary of the magazine format “news” shows.
You have four primary forms of defense when dealing with national crews: endless preparation, filming them as they record you for your own protection, choosing not to do an interview, and issuing a written statement.
If you are defending yourself during tough times, and you have done interviews with local affiliates, then there may not be a reason to grant an interview to a national network crew. The network can always use local footage. They will assure you of fairness and try to convince you that it is in your best interest to do an interview, but you have the option not to participate.
Be especially wary of the celebrity reporter. Those “nice” producers will set the stage, and the celebrity reporter will arrive thirty minutes before the interview, typically proceeding through a series of tough questions on prepared three-by-five cards. Out of forty-five minutes of recording the reporter will use three for the final product. Generally speaking, the result is not flattering.
Written statements are useful tools when you have a reason to mistrust the “celebrity” reporter or the magazine format news shows. Sometimes it’s just better to respond in writing when the results are almost guaranteed to be unfairly negative.
Usually, I am a strong advocate of participating in all interviews. This is my one of my few exceptions.
Some “nationals” choose to embrace every possible negative regardless of conflicting evidence. If the results are pre-ordained, it seems to make little sense to participate.
If they care enough about the issue, then they may try an ambush interview. If they do, smile and tell them to contact you at the office and arrange a time for an interview. You may want to reconsider, but a well-written statement is usually enough to forestall this event.
I am not trying to portray all national reporters and crews in a negative light. The overwhelming majority of them are honorable people doing an honorable job. Most were friendly, cooperative, knowledgeable, and fair.
I had a crew from ABC Evening News spend an entire day at a jail and not do a story when they found that the advocacy group making charges about “mistreatment” of juvenile offenders had overstated their case. This is exactly the opposite of the argument made previously that economics drives news coverage.
It cost ABC News an enormous amount of money to send a crew of four people and not file a story.
When making a decision about doing an interview with a national television news outlet, I would suggest that you watch their program and call people they interviewed. See if they received fair treatment. Be guided by their statements.
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 https://amzn.com/151948965X. Your reviews are appreciated.
See my website at http://leonardsipes.com.
Contact me at [email protected].