Friday, 11 October 2013

A few tips on giving press interviews

The interviewer's friend -
and the interviewees

People seem to believe that a journalist interviews a person, goes away, types up his or her account of the questions and answers and goes to press.

Well, that could be the way if the interviewee was a complete greenhorn, lacking in common nous and not having any form of back-up in the form of a public relations officer or advisor.

Any media advisor worth their salt should know how to arrange an interview without literally leaving everything to chance and allowing an unscrupulous journalist the opportunity to twist and spin the interview so that the true statements of the interviewee are distorted.

It's not hard. You agree a format with the journalist, you specify the range and type of questions that will be answered, you organise a tape recording of the meeting so that the journalist knows that they will be held to account if they bear false witness.

If it's a television or radio interview you form a concord as to the editing of the piece, that is, no taking out sections and slicing them in where the original meaning then becomes lost and appears ridiculous.

Above all else, you never tell a journalist anything you do not wish to be published.

Saying: "Please don't publish this but you might like to know that......"
is just about as effective as placing a large scotch into the hands of an alcoholic with the request "Don't drink that".

If you do not have a reliable Press Officer, look on the internet, you will find plenty of material there to guide you through an interview - here's a sample:-

Before the interview: 

• Know the reporter, publication/program, interview format, 
• Know your goal for the interview. 
• Know what you want to say: Review your “key message 
• Jot down likely questions, appropriate answers. 
• Prepare a range of questions: hard and easy. 

Interview tips: 

• Speak in “headlines:” Offer conclusion first, briefly and 
directly, and back it with facts or “proof point.” 
• Don’t over answer. Short answers are better than long. 
• Don’t be fixated by the question. “Bridge” to a related point 
you want to make. 
• Asked about a problem? Talk about a solution. 
• Don’t let false charges, facts, or figures offered by a reporter 
stand uncorrected. 
• Don’t repeat a reporter’s negative statements or slurs. 
Frame your reply as a positive statement. 
• Don’t fall victim to hypothetical situations and “A or B” 
• Speak clearly. Avoid jargon and bureaucratese. 
• Be engaging, likeable. 
• Don’t know the answer? Don’t fake it. If appropriate, assure 
the reporter you will find and provide the needed facts in a 
timely manner, or offer to assist the reporter in finding that 
other source. 
• Don’t overlap the interviewer’s question; begin your answer 
when the reporter is finished. 
• Keep cool. Don’t be provoked. 

• Never lie to a reporter. 

All of that might appear to be a little shallow but, the gist of how to operate is there.

Above all else it is worth remembering that it is you and not the journalist who is in control.

Hardly rocket science is it?

I do have one or two outstanding Catholic journalists whom I am most fortunate to be able to call friends.
I would not wish to tar all journalists with the same brush; they would, I know, behave with the utmost integrity when carrying out interviews.


  1. The Pope was in charge of his interviews. He chose to give them and reviewed draft text before publication.

  2. I'm afraid the Pope is well aware of all this and is choosing to do the opposite for reasons unknown.