Final Tips For “The Art of the Interview”

by admin on May 8, 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 seventeenth in a series of articles on, “The Art of the Interview.” This is the fourth in a series on dealing with “Media Hell.”


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#1

I have tried to instill a sense that the interview is the art of conversation between two potential adversaries. The interaction does not have to be confrontational or mean-spirited. The best of interviews, even under the most difficult circumstances, are conducted civilly and without rancor.

Here are some final tips.

1. Please note that symbols can be more important than facts. In a complicated world, we are often overwhelmed by what we face. Things or issues of symbolic value often “cut through the clutter” and provide the clarity we seek (i.e., an out of context photograph). That “clarity” may be more wrong than right, but it influences people regardless. I do not bring up this point to encourage you to engage in meaningless gestures, but you need to be aware that your detractors may be savvy enough to pack symbols into an issue. If so, do not fall for the bait. Beware of the value of symbols. Do not let yourself be distracted from your communications objectives.

2. The media control us to a large degree and there is little you can do about it. There was an article in a national magazine addressing a San Francisco newspaper that decided to write about urban problems. If a park had a broken fence, they would do daily photographs and articles until government fixed the problem. They could do this to anyone. If they choose to target your organization, there is nothing to stop them. We may not like it, but it’s true. We need to do what is in our best interest, and we need to do it honestly. However, spokespeople need to understand that the media has immense power, and we need to conduct ourselves accordingly. We win no points by kicking the lion in the teeth.

3. One of the best ideas in handling breaking news stories is to put everything in chronological order. It would be nice if the agency involved would do this for you, but you will probably have to do this yourself. Having a running account of what transpired and when will keep you organized and prepared.

4. There are differences between large and small market media. What a large market reporter glosses over, a small market reporter sees as front-page news. They will ask a multitude of detailed questions for an event that may not be covered at all elsewhere. Treat them and their questions respectfully; they still have the power to influence other markets.

5. There are times where you have nothing new to offer regarding an ongoing story, yet individuals in the electronic media will still ask for interviews. As the news manager for a television station once told me, “We have to fill up air and we need your help to do it.” You can stand on principle and refuse, but I would not suggest it. If you can help your associates in the media, and it does no harm, then go ahead and do the interview. You will be coming to them one day also seeking consideration. What goes around comes around.

6. We are not supposed to play favorites. We are supposed to treat all members of the media equally. I’m sorry, but not all of them are truly equal. There is obviously a difference between newspapers with a 20,000-person circulation and a major metropolitan daily that will reach hundreds of thousands of people. There is a difference between the local cable outlet that provides an evening news program and a major television station reaching 800,000 homes. During good times when my office is not inundated with calls, everybody is treated equally. But I am abundantly aware that 80 percent of news outlets will look to the other 20 percent for guidance in terms of forming and shaping their stories. The larger media outlets (i.e., newspapers of record) will set the pace for everyone else at the start of the day.

7. You are responsible for meeting the legitimate needs of the media. It is your obligation to be fair because you are asking for fairness in return. That means that you must become an advocate for the legitimate needs of the media. Your efforts will endear you to reporters and news managers. These are the very people you will need in times of crisis or marketing. Again, what goes around comes around.

8. Interactions between the public affairs representatives and journalists are sometimes based upon favors. What the reporter does for you on Tuesday will be the basis of a request on Thursday. You have the right of refusal as they do. Remember that next time you ask a reporter for a favor.

9. It is perfectly fine to turn down the media. I tell the media “no” every day. But when you refuse a request, please explain why. Very sound legal, business, and ethical principles are often involved in your decision. If they are, then they should be offered to the reporter as explanations for the refusal. Never just say “no” without an explanation.

10. The media is an extraordinarily competitive business. Try to keep this in mind when dealing with news organizations. As a policy, I honor exclusives even when it is clearly not in our best interest. Exclusives mean that one (and only one) media outlet is conducting an investigation that focuses on your operations. Even though it would be in our best interest to bring other reporters into the story, I feel honor bound to respect the exclusive. We have unwritten rules of engagement that depend on all sides acting honorably and fairly. But I’m also looking for any legitimate opportunity to open the story to other reporters. Detractors will often shop a story around to multiple media outlets until they find a taker. If that happens, the reporter no longer has an exclusive.

11. I will try my best not to inform other reporters of a journalist’s theories or hypotheses. I will go so far as to not inform reporters within the same news organization. Reporters believe that they make a living through their industriousness, their creativity, their hard work, and their ability to tell a story. They ask for and expect confidentiality for their work. Most public affairs officers will respect that confidentiality.

An interesting aspect to the above bullet is the time we were involved in a major story, and I worked with a reporter from a major metropolitan newspaper. He took a couple days off, and I promised that new developments would be brought to his attention immediately. He would then decide if he would come back to work or ask another reporter to file the story.

There were new developments, and, before I could call him, another reporter from the same newspaper called for an update. I gave her new information assuming that she was calling in his place. I also gave an update to a competing newspaper. The new information was not included in the original reporter’s paper. It was in the competing paper. His editors raised holy hell with him, and he vigorously complained to me.

He accused me of favoring the other newspaper at his expense and took the issue very personally. The only thing that saved me was the fact that the second reporter from his paper had enough sense of honor to say that she had called for an update and that it was reasonable for me to assume that I had fulfilled my obligation to the paper.

I learned a lesson from this experience; make no assumptions. Continue to update the original reporter. Let the reporter make a decision regarding the involvement of peers.

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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