Thursday, July 18, 2013

Media interview smarts: 3 things to ask for instead of a do-over

I wince every time I hear a client or communicator asking whether it's okay to request a "do-over" for a media interview, mostly because I come from the school of thought that says you have no business talking to reporters unless you are ready to do so.

Interviewees sometimes ask for do-overs because they figure a redo is in the realm of the possible. After all, that recording can be erased or the notes deleted, right? But even if that were true and honest reporting practice (which it is not), tight budgets and longer to-do lists for a shrinking pool of reporters means that the do-over just isn't practical. You also risk looking naive at best, or controlling at worst--two qualities that are unlikely to convince a reporter to call you next time.

The good news: Right from the moment you begin talking to a reporter, you can ask for three things that may help you avoid the need for a do-over. Here's my short list of smart requests:
  1. Time to prepare: I can't count high enough to describe the number of interviewees I've met who think that they must start answering questions the moment the reporter calls and asks for an interview. In fact, most reporters are calling to see whether and when you are willing to talk, and in most cases, they don't need that to happen immediately--although they'll certainly let you talk if you want to. "What's your deadline? I'm right in the middle of something, but would like to talk to you if we can work out a time" may buy you 10 minutes, a day or even a few days to get ready. Why wouldn't you ask for that?
  2. Clarification on the question: Many interview questions are--by design or default--simple takes on complex issues. If you're not sure what prompts the question, or suspect there's more to it, ask for clarification. "Tell me why you ask in just that way" or "That's a complex issue. Talk a bit about what prompts that particular question" not only helps you understand better how to answer, but buys you some time to think.
  3. A review just before the interview ends: "What are you taking away from this?" or "let's review what I just said" are among the 11 questions you get to ask reporters--and this particular one was suggested by science reporter Andrew Revkin as a substitute for calling reporters later to complain that you were misquoted. Don't hang up the phone or let the camera stop until you've done this review and corrected any erroneous assumptions. The time to do that is during the interview, not afterward. 
Finally, if you find yourself making mistakes and seeking do-overs frequently, or just want to avoid that experience completely, do everyone a favor and get some media training. You can anticipate questions you're likely to be asked and develop answers for them, practice responding to questions that come out of the blue, learn how to become a trusted and successful interviewee and more. Trust me, reporters prefer sources who are prepared and know better than to ask them for a do-over. Email me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz to learn more.

1 comment:

MineralPhys said...

Thank you so much for this post. I made a rookie mistake many years ago, when I didn't recognize in the published product what I thought I had said to a reporter. This post is exactly the media training I needed at the time, and still need.