How to do a News Interview
A successful effort on your part to interest a news organization in a story will almost always present you with the opportunity to provide someone for the reporter to interview. From the point of view of reporters and editors, your story suggestion or your news release are the starting points of the story. They advance the story by interviewing people involved, people who are experts, people who are responsible, people who benefit, or sometimes just people who have seen the events of the story as witnesses.
Many interview subjects learn the hard way they should have done more to prepare themselves for the opportunity to present their point of view to the public through the news media. This interview checklist covers four aspects of the interview - things to know about an interview, things to do before you are interviewed, your rights as interview subject and things to do during an interview.
1. Interviews are the basic tool of news gathering. The reporter must rely on accounts of survivors or victims, of eyewitnesses or investigators for information about accidents or disasters. What is known about complex subjects, similarly, is often revealed through interviews with participants, spectators or experts as well as by o observations of the
2. An interview is not a conversation. It is a ritual, much like a formal debate, during which the reporter represents the public and your responses or comments are directed to the public through the news media.
3. The reporter interviews you because he or she wants a good story. The reporter is not interested in flattering you or favoring you, necessarily, nor in damaging you. The reporter just wants news.
Before You Are Interviewed
1. Do your homework. It is difficult enough to remember everything about your activity when you aren't under pressure. It is even more difficult during a stressful situation. Take the time to brush up on current events as they affect you, recent news stories about your organization and your industry. A good reporter will also do his homework before interviewing you.
2. Anticipate key questions. Your own knowledge of your activity should point out areas of potential interest, hot spots or controversies.
3. Prepare key answers. Have answers ready for key questions you have anticipated, including, if possible. Quotable quotes or phrases that present your answers in a catchy way.
You have certain rights as an interview subject, which you can either assert or negotiate for, as part of your agreement to be interviewed. This is especially true if a reporter from the news media has requested the interview.
1. You can help determine the time and location.
2. You can determine-in advance-the time available.
3. You can ask in advance for topics to be covered-but not specific questions-to help prepare to be a good in~ terview subject.
4. You can set your own pace for answering questions-and give yourself time to think before speaking.
5. You can challenge questionable facts and assumptions.
6. You can question dubious sources of information.
7. You can use "human" language, anecdotes, illustrations.
8. You can personalize your answers.
9. You can frame your answers from the public's point of view.
10 . You can increase your credibility by revealing any self-interest.
During the interview
Once you are familiar with what an interview is, after you have done your homework, anticipated key questions and key answers, and once you are entering the arena of public discussion, you are ready for 19 points that can save your life during an interview.
1. Make the interview worthwhile for you. Tell your story!
2. Deliver your key answers. quotable quotes and anecdotes.
3. Listen very carefully to each question. Questions that are "off the subject" may be a signal that the interviewer doesn't understand the topic and that you might want to offer a quick overview.
4. Speak only for yourself or your organization-not for your industry as a whole, unless you are an industry spokesman.
5. If you get angry, count to ten before proceeding.
6. Avoid an argument with the reporter. Your argumentativeness, not his or hers, may show up in print or on the air.
7. If interrupted by one reporter while answering questions from another, during a news conference, wait for your turn and proceed with your comments on the original question before changing the subject.
8. Challenge any effort to put words in your mouth. Otherwise you may end up appearing to agree to points you disagree with, or admitting something you don't agree with.
9. When presented with a laundry list of questions, identify the question you are responding to before you answer. If the reporter is interested in the other questions, he or she may give them back to you.
10. Broaden your answers to make your points - don't play verbal ping pong with the interviewer.
11. Put your main point or conclusion first, followed by supporting points or arguments if necessary. In business particularly, many are conditioned to give supporting points before the main point- in an interview you must do the opposite.
12. Speak plain English. Jargon or company lingo or abbreviations that may be familiar to you as an insider may have no meaning to the general public.
13. Don't be evasive. Evasiveness is a signal to the interviewer that you have something to hide.
14. Accept your responsibility as the representative of your organization being interviewed. Don't pass the buck.
15. If you don't know the answer to a question, say so. Offer to find out the answer as soon as possible and then provide the information to the interviewer. Resist any temptation to make up an answer, or to withhold information, after you have promised it.
16. If you absolutely cannot divulge information, state why in a matter of fact way.
17. Be positive, not defensive. Take the trouble to present your point of view in a positive manner.
18. Resist any temptation or effort to get you to attack other organizations or competitors. Your accusations or attack may preempt all the rest of your interview.
19. Tell the truth. A half-truth is a half-lie. You are remiss if you allow a reporter to accept a partial truth as a truthful answer. You may be known into eternity as one who did not tell the truth and therefore is not credible.
Tell the truth,
tell the truth,
tell the truth!"
There are as many different approaches to interviews as people who "give" or "take" them. Your job during an interview is to give information to a reporter. Most frequently it will be on a subject you want the journalist to write about or to broadcast.
The interviewer will always have the advantage of experience over you. He or she may conduct as many interviews during a week or month as you may give in your lifetime.
But you have the knowledge advantage. Very seldom will you be interviewed by a reporter who knows anywhere near as much about your subject as you do.
While you can never match the experience level of the reporter, you can plan for interviews, prepare for them and even practice. Yes. Practice. In formal sessions or informally you can-and should-go over these suggestions and apply as many as possible to your story, to your interview.
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