Handling the Media

by Jennifer Stenhouse

A word on journalists

Journalists have a bad name (or get a bad press), but they’re not all bad. They’re usually doing the best they can in a tough, stressful and negative environment. Deadlines, especially in these days of 24-hour TV and radio, can be punishing. Be as helpful and pleasant an interviewee as you can. It will pay dividends.

Journalists may be hated more than estate agents, but they are people too. They respond to courteous treatment. It helps to develop rapport. Be as helpful and pleasant an interviewee as you can. It will pay dividends.

Building rapport in an interview

Watch the body language and try to match it. Adopt a similar posture, if you can. Mirror the other person’s moves back to them. Watch their hand gestures and reflect theirs in yours. The point is not to mimic the other person, but to gain an understanding of them by putting yourself in their shoes.

Listen to the tone of the other’s voice and the cadences. Try matching their volume and speed with your own. Then listen to the words they use. The interviewer will know the audience they’re serving very well and will in all probability use the kind of vocabulary that is appropriate to that audience. If you follow their lead, you won’t go far wrong.

Shared beliefs and values establish a strong rapport, but you don’t have to share them – just acknowledge and respect them. This can be very powerful. You can acknowledge someone purely by paying attention to them and what they’re saying. It comes back to establishing eye contact again, and generally engaging in the process of question and answer.

All journalists have different deadlines and agendas, and you would do well to find out what those are. If you can give them what they want, you stand more chance of a successful media encounter.


It helps to get to know well those journalists who might become important to you. This way, you will be better placed to assess how a media encounter might go ahead of time. It could give you the edge you need.

Always be on your guard...

There is a saying that a journalist is never off-duty. Certainly, you should never be off-guard with one, and never assume an interview is over until you’ve actually parted company. John Major found this out to his cost while he was Prime Minister, after an interview with ITN’s then political editor, Michael Brunson. The PM’s off-air, but nonetheless recorded, reference to the ‘bastards in his cabinet’ made front-page news.

Off the record

Only give out information which you want to see in print or on TV and radio, and avoid speaking to journalists ‘off the record’. Occasionally you will feel it is worth the risk, but only do so if you know the journalist well and feel you can trust him or her. Make it clear your comments are off the record BEFORE you give the information and be sure the journalist agrees to comply.

After the interview or media encounter

The interview is not over until the journalist has gone. Anything you say in front of the journalist can be used. In television, it is not over until the camera and lights have been switched off. Likewise with radio – hold your peace until you’re out of the studio.