Handling the Media

by Jennifer Stenhouse

Types of interview

The fiction of the broadcast interview is that it is an overheard conversation between you and the interviewer. Always talk as though to a single listener, while bearing in mind who your ultimate audience may be. Each type of interview has its pros and cons.

Live versus recorded

The live interview is the one sure way you have of knowing you will not be misquoted. The Labour MP Gerald Kaufman makes it a rule only be interviewed live to ensure his message is not filtered through any editor or producer. Although everyone worries about drying up when live on air, in practice this rarely happens. Think about interviews you have heard and you will struggle to recall anyone who has completely lost their thread.

The recorded interview, on the other hand, has the obvious advantage that if you’re not happy with any or all of it, you can do it again. The disadvantage is that you can become too reliant on re-recording mistakes and so do a sloppy, ill-thought-out interview.

Group discussion

Many programmes use a panel discussion to bring out all the arguments inherent within a story. Always find out who else is going to be involved and decide if you want to be on a panel with them. If you agree, then work out what their points of view are likely to be and how you will deal with them. When the other participants are speaking, you must listen so that you can make both an intelligent reply and so that the camera does not catch you slouching, foot tapping, yawning or even nose picking!

The principle of deciding on your message and sticking to it still holds good.

The phone-in

This is an excellent opportunity to get your message across, because you will more than likely be on a 30-minute slot, maybe even an hour. Prepare in the same way as for an ordinary interview, thinking of good examples, checking your language and especially working out which questions are most likely to be asked and how you can deal with the trickiest ones.

Don’t get drawn into long conversations about people’s personal problems. These are very boring for other listeners and there is often little you can do without a great deal more information. Always suggest that the caller gives their name to the programme’s telephone operator so that you can call them back after the programme. Make sure you do call back.

Down the line

This is a tricky type of interview for the inexperienced. On TV, it means that you are in a separate studio from the interviewer, facing nothing but a studio camera. This can be disconcerting, as you have no actual person to look at as you answer their questions. The trick is to talk into the camera as if it were a real person and try not to be put off by the studio paraphernalia. If you ‘engage’ the camera – looking only at it – then you will look good. If you look around the studio or down at your feet, you will have lost the audience. On radio it’s more natural – like taking part in a telephone conversation. Just remember it’s a conversation plus!