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:
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.