Printer-friendly version

reporters with microphonesMedia Interview Tips

If the media picks up your news release, CONGRATULATIONS! You are being blessed with free publicity. 

The basics

  • Get the reporter's name, media outlet, phone number, and story deadline.
  • Ask what s/he would like to do a story about.
  • If  TV or radio is calling, ask about the interview format (live, taped, etc.).
  • Determine who the best person is to answer questions on the story topic.
  • If you,  but you aren't prepared to talk, set a later time, but respect the reporter's deadline. Even 15 minutes will help you get ready. 
  • If you're not the best person, select an available expert who will positively reflect your library and help him/her prepare.
  • Be aware that reporters' schedules are determined by the "breaking" news of the day. Do not be offended or snide if an interview gets canceled or rescheduled because a more urgent story arises.

Preparation

  • Take a few minutes to write down notes on the topic and the brief message(s) you want to convey. 
  • Avoid technical jargon, use lay terms.
  • Make sure your points are clear and to-the-point.
  • Be ready to support your message with a few examples and facts.
  • Keep in mind what the public needs to know, and how the topic impacts people's lives
  • Practice delivering your message(s).

The interview

  • Phone interviews: the reporter is required by law to tell you when you are being recorded. If you're not certain, you should ask.
  • Assume everything you say is on the record, from the time you meet or talk with the reporter until he or she leaves the room or hangs up.
  • Speak with authority and energy. You are some people's first impression of the library, so make it the best possible.
  • Begin at a basic level. Offer brief background on the subject at hand if the reporter seems to need it.
  • Be brief! We live in the age of the sound bite. Television and radio stories may use only a 10-30 second cut. The shorter your comments, the less likely they are to be edited. Even print reporters are looking for short, snappy quotes.
  • Keep it positive, even if the subject is negative or the reporter's questions turn negative.
  • If the reporter's questions veer off track, politely steer the interview back to your message. Stick to your main points. Don't make the mistake of talking too much. Repeat your points if necessary to get back on track.
  • Speak in complete thoughts. The reporter's question may be edited out and your response should stand on its own.
  • If you do not understand a question, ask for clarification rather than talking around it. If you do not have the answer, say so. Tell the reporter where to find the information, if possible.
  • Never say, "No comment." Instead, if you cannot or do not choose to answer, explain briefly. For example, "It is our policy not to discuss lawsuits currently in litigation" or "I can't answer that because I haven't seen the research paper you are referring to."
  • If the reporter runs out of questions or doesn't know what to ask, steer. Talk about the story topic in terms like "many people ask . . ." or "our readers most like to . . ." or "we get in excess of 100 attendees when we . . . " or "blank really attracts kids in our community." You want to build a relationship with the reporter, so make them feel in control.
  • If you're not sure the reporter understood your main points, ask him/her if they would like you to clarify any points or if s/he has any questions.
  • Remember that audiences (particularly TV viewers) are won by the attitudes of those interviewed. Be knowledgeable, sincere, compassionate, and energetic.

Additional tips for when a broadcast reporter calls

  • To film inside buildings on campus, or to film anyone who would easily be identified on TV, broadcast media need permission. 
  • For television interviews, wear solid-color clothing. Stripes, plaids, or other designs can cause problems with color TV pictures. Avoid large, jangling, or reflective jewelry.
  • Look in a mirror, if possible, just before going on camera. The reporter may not tell you that your collar is folded over or your hair is out of place. 
  • Choose a location where you can screen out extraneous noises. Hold your calls and turn off your computer, if possible. Avoid rooms with loud background hums from air conditioning or heating units.
  • If you agreed to a live interview, be sure you are comfortable thinking on your feet and responding off the cuff. 
  • In edited interviews, do not answer questions too quickly; pause briefly before answering. This helps the reporter get a "clean" sound bite and also has the added benefit of allowing you time to think out your answer. 
  • In edited interviews, it's O.K. to stop and start over again if you don't like the way you worded your answer. 
  • In a TV interview, look at the reporter and not the camera.
  • Stay stationary in front of radio or TV microphones and avoid sitting in a chair that rocks or spins. Wandering around or rocking in your chair can cause the recorded volume to rise and fall.
  • Be aware of and avoid nervous habits such as pen tapping that can interfere with the interview.

After the interview

  • Contact the reporter.
  • Thank him/her for taking the time to cover the story and supporting the public/community library.
  • Ask when the story will appear/air. The reporter may not have an answer, but if s/he does s/he'll be happy to tell you.
  • If you feel after reflecting on an interview that you misspoke or gave incorrect information, call the reporter as soon as possible and let her know. Similarly, you can call with additional information if you forgot to make an important point.
  • Offer to do a 'fact check'. Journalism ethics don't generally allow a reporter to share his/her story before publication, but if you are offering to check his/her facts, it's giving the reporter an extra set of eyes and will gain them maximum credibility.

After the story

  • Give positive feedback to reporters, if merited, after a story appears. Like the rest of us, they usually hear only complaints and rarely get a call or note to say they've done a good job.
  • If an error appears, let the reporter know right away. Sometimes a correction can be printed or aired. You also will want to prevent the incorrect information from being used as background for future stories.
  • If you are unhappy with a story, share your concerns with the reporter first. Contacting his/her editor is a last resort.
  • For radio and TV stories, obtain a copy/link of the final broadcast if possible and critique your own performance, looking for ways you might improve in the future.