Do Journalists Make Good Subjects?

This weekend, I’ll be appearing on a panel at the American Society of Journalists and Authors Conference (#ASJA2010) in NYC. Here’s their write-up:

C) SWITCHING ROLES: FROM INTERVIEWER TO INTERVIEWEE (Intermediate)

Whether you’re promoting a book or have penned an article that’s attracting media attention, you’ll hear the tips you need to be interviewed, become media savvy and deliver great pull-quotes, on TV, radio, podcast, Skype, or any other medium.

I’ve been contacting a number of journalists who have been on the receiving end of interviews (one such media maven was not very happy when The New York Post turned him into a blood sport). Here is the advice I’ve gathered. Do you have any of your own to add, so that I may share your wisdom with the attendees at ASJA? Thanks in advance for this! My email is Laurel AT media bistro DOT com.

  1. Don’t expect excellence. Don’t expect fact-checking. Spell your name, title, etc. Ask the person to repeat the name/spelling/subtitle of your book. Then, follow up in an email and send the same information.
  2. Make friends. Treat the journo as if she were your close friend, a friend who you cannot trust with a secret. Be relaxed and conversational, but do not become too chatty. The safest thing to do is to TAPE the conversation.
  3. Be a little scary. Play the insider. Let the reporter know in a very nice way, of course, that you have street cred. Drop names of editor friends, or producer friends at the journo’s employer. You want this person to think “I’m going to be very careful with how I cover [X], so he doesn’t complain to so-and-so.”
  4. Engage. Get a conversation going. Try to get to know the person. How did he/she get the story idea? Ask “Who else have you called? Or are planning to call?” The more information you have, the better able you’ll be to assess the reporter’s abilities, and get a bead on the arc of the story.
  5. Become a resource, not just a source. Refer the reporter to other sources. Tell her at the end of the call that she is welcome to call you back with questions. Send her some sources via email, too, if you think of any after you hang up.
  6. Be short, but walk with a smart stick. Speak with authority/confidence, and in short, pithy sentences. Have a list of no more than 3 to 5 points you want to get across. Gather data/facts in advance, so the reporter doesn’t have to circle back to you for necessary material. Forcing her to follow up with you at a later date decreases your chances of getting into the final copy.
  7. Be nice, even if you think the interviewer is lame or stupid. Don’t correct the interviewer. Don’t sound angry or pissed off. This doesn’t mean you can’t be feisty. However, if the interview is for TV/radio, ask the interviewer/producer in advance whether or not they want to mix it up. Sometimes arguing is good, but it must be done with good humor.
  8. Different media require different behaviors. Understand the form you’re in — if it’s TV news, it has to be 30-seconds and coherent; whereas an hour-long NPR interview allows you to speak in full paragraphs. Practice in advance for those short, pithy TV and radio segments.
  9. TV and Radio can be especially tricky. The interviewers often haven’t read your materials and have only the vaguest idea why you’re there. Don’t take this personally. Just realize they want to fill time. Your segment was probably pitched to them by a publicist. They will ask obvious questions; sometimes they will ask questions that have nothing to do with you or your subject matter. Don’t get flustered. Instead, have your 3-5 points in mind and steer the questions in the direction you want to go.
  10. Go ahead and “promote,” but do so in a straightforward manner. Say, “I hope you don’t mind if I throw in a little plug for my [project, book, etc.].” ALWAYS give a web site. If there’s an upcoming event, mention that, too.
  11. Help shape the story. If the story is not fitting your facts, go ahead and make suggestions to the journo about a change of direction. If that doesn’t work, don’t be afraid to tell the journo that he/she has it wrong. Be brave. Sure, you may get dropped from the story — but more likely, your comments will appear as the “balance” or counter-arguments to everyone else’s sheep-like agreement.

Please feel free to comment here or write to me directly if you have better suggestions than these. I won’t be hurt. Thanks! Write to Laurel AT media bistro DOT com

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s