When it comes to an interview, why take these chance of not being prepared? Why not just accept that reporters are likely to be sensitive about the “list of questions” issue, and avoid this language altogether (we covered this in our media kit part 2 section). Here’s how you do that. Here are five questions you can ask any reporter before any interview to elicit all the information you need to prepare:
- What’s your story about? Reporters will always approach an interview with a story angle in mind. This isn’t necessarily bias against you or your organization. Most often it is simply the reporter’s beginning expectation of how the story will come out. Even a reporter has to start somewhere. You have a right to know a reporter’s angle on any story before you submit to an interview. With this information, you have the opportunity to prepare your messages either in support of, or in opposition to that angle. Just remember that the interview itself is your opportunity to be persuasive, so don’t attempt to negotiate a more favorable playing field prior to the interview.
- What background information or research will I need to help you with your story? In other words, what level of detail will the reporter be expecting in the interview? Will quotes from you be sufficient, or will you need to cite facts and figures from memory? This is critical, because it helps you avoid spending precious interview time saying “I don’t know,” or “I’ll have to get back to you on that.” Don’t be hesitant to make those statements if required in the interview. Just minimize that necessity.
- Who else are you interviewing (or have you already interviewed) for this story? Just knowing who else is being interviewed can indirectly give you lots of information about questions 1 and 2 above. It will also give you important information about how important the story is to the reporter. Several other people being interviewed, for example, could easily indicate that the story is a major investigative piece, which tells you quite a bit about how to prepare.
- What subjects are you most interested in talking about? A very general sounding question, perhaps, but it will often lead to insights into the reporter’s thinking about the story. If there is a genuine bias there, the answer to this question may reveal it.
- How else can I help you with your story? Such a blanket invitation to be helpful may be turned down by the reporter, but asking this question with the sincere intention of being helpful can go a long way toward negating any hostility or antagonism between you and the reporter. Once you’ve agreed to talk with a reporter, don’t blow it in advance by asking for a set of questions. Instead, recognize how reporters can misinterpret language commonly used by business people. Then position yourself as being sincerely interested in helping the reporter get a balanced, full story. Use this approach, and you’ll get all the information you need to prepare for your interview.
News Interviews: They Don’t Have To Be Like Root Canals
The thought of going one-on-one with a reporter is enough to throw some corporate managers and executives into a fit of full-blown interview anxiety. It can generate snowballing self-doubt and even panic as they imagine the absolute worst that could come of the encounter.
“I’ll embarrass myself.”
“I’ll embarrass my company.”
“I’ll say the wrong thing.”
“I won’t know all the answers,”
“They’ll trick me into saying things I don’t want to say.”
“I’ll get fired.”
Good reporters have lots of sources, and the staple of their professional diet is the interview.
For the uninitiated businessperson, the interview is the place where most mistakes are made, where misinformation develops and where even well intentioned efforts to cooperate with the news media may backfire.
Interviewees often go away from an interview frustrated, anxiety-ridden and angry. Reporters often feel the same way, although from a different perspective. When the story shows up in the paper, or on radio or television, it confirms the source’s worst fears. Most blame the reporter for “not getting it right,” which merely increases the sense of mistrust.
It’s a form of self-sabotage, but it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, interviews can be incredibly fun. I have a custom ritual of taking a “selfie” with the reporter and the interviewee afterwards. It’s fun and goes a long way of creating goodwill in a relationship.
Also published on Medium.