Friday, 4 February 2011

What precautions to take when being interviewed by the media

An outstanding post from Mark on the WUWT blog after the stitch up on James Delingpole.

A bit of cut n paste for you media whores!

I have some expertise in PR and media relations and here is a primer on handling documentary producers.

Before the interview:

* Do not sign the release form/waiver until after the interview. Do not sign a release form that is a blanket release. Add in a line that limits your release to that day’s date and up to the current time of day. That prevents a subsequent ambush interview also being covered under the released.

* Carefully limit the length of the interview in writing when you agree to the appointment. I suggest a maximum of 30 minutes. No one is usually on camera for more than 90 seconds (if that) and 30 minutes is more than enough time for them to get what they want if they are being straightforward. Giving them more time just lets them go ‘fishing’ for some gaffe or misstatement. Don’t let them.

* Have someone there on your side who is going to be your watchdog. Get someone who doesn’t have trouble disagreeing with people and holding them to their word. They should be like your defense attorney.

* Ask for a specific list of questions in advance. Print it and have it with you.

* If they have any problems granting any of the above, you should take that as an almost certain sign that they are up to no good.

* Assume that they are recording the entire time they are in your presence, even if it appears the camera is off. Once they put a radio microphone on you, carefully manage when it is on and off. Turn it on and off yourself. A good tip is to actually clip it to the back of the chair you are sitting in instead of your belt. That way you can’t forget and wander off with it during a break.

* Try to negotiate the right to see the finished documentary before it is aired. Any producer will be reluctant, even if they are on the up and up because it’s more work. However, how they respond to this discussion can be telling. Point out that you’re not asking for any editorial input (which they would never agree to anyway), you just want to have some idea of what to expect before it airs.

* Remember that ALL professional documentary makers have already decided their angle on the story before they begin. Any claims to the contrary (such as “we’re just taking a neutral look at both sides”), should be taken as evidence that they are not being up front with you. Making a documentary is hard, time-consuming and expensive. They wouldn’t go to all that trouble and expense if they didn’t think they had an important and compelling angle on the story.

* Always research the people and the company making the documentary. When they first contact you ask lots of questions about who’s involved in production, who’s backing the project, which production companies are being used, where it will air, etc. Google all of this and follow the threads. Generally zebras don’t change their stripes.

* A few days before the interview ask who else they’ve already interviewed (to save costs they tend to group production sessions together). If you can, contact those people and ask how it went.

* Just as they are getting ready to roll, reach into your pocket and take out your own audio recorder (or cellphone with recording app) and turn it on saying “you don’t mind if I get this for my notes do you?”

* Doing video interviews is hard. Very hard. Coming across naturally and clearly is tough even for skilled news presenters and politicians. So if an interviewer wants to make you look bad, they have a head start if you’re a novice. This why I strongly suggest doing some practice sessions with a friend. Get out your camcorder, sit down interview style and go through a list of likely questions several times. Have your friend get tricky and try to mess you up. Have fun. Then make some popcorn and watch it. Make notes. Do it again. A little practice is better than none but a lot of practice is ideal.

During the Interview:

* Strictly hold them to the agreed length and remind them when they arrive and when the interview starts.

* Keep your answers very short and very focused. This can take practice because we all like to ramble on. Don’t! It never comes across well, even in a friendly interview.

* After they have asked each question, feel free to take a few moments to collect your thoughts before you start your answer. They will edit out the question anyway. Do not ever let them rush you. Do not ever engage in a rapid fire back and forth because this is where you are most likely to misspeak. Your watchdog friend should feel free to interrupt with “Let’s take a break” right in the middle of a question if they feel it’s appropriate. If you take a break, remember, mic off.

* If you feel like you are in the process of flubbing answer, immediately stop and say “that’s not correct, let me try starting over” and then just start over. Feel free to do this multiple times if necessary. If they try to use the start of your flubbed answer, it will look pretty bad for them when you release your audio recording showing they used something that they knew was “not correct”.

* If they surprise you with a question that you are unprepared to answer. Immediately stand up. The reason is that it can be a very effective technique to ask their “zinger” and let the shot hang on your uncomfortable expression. If you stand up, the camera shot is of your zipper – something they are unlikely to linger on for very long. Keep in mind that standing up is the only sure way to “scrub” an interview shot. Feel free to use it as often as needed. A good pretext can be reaching over to get your print out of the questions so you can note that this question wasn’t on there.

* If it is becoming clear that this is a hostile interview, don’t waste time making grand points that eloquently prove your case. If it’s good for your position, they simply won’t use it. This is like a legal deposition or police questioning. What you say can only be bad for you, never good.

* You may need to question the question if it’s of the “when did you stop beating your wife” category. This is perfectly acceptable to do. It’s your interview too. However, never have this kind of discussion with the mic on or in view of the camera. There is usually an additional shotgun mic on the camera that provides a less perfect but still usable audio feed if they choose. Also keep in mind that the interviewer’s radio mic can pick you up as well if they are within a few feet of you.

* If the interviewer keeps circling back and re-asking basically the same question in different ways, that means that he’s not happy with how your response is coming across. In a hostile situation this means you are doing very well! Now the key is to simply smile and “play broken record”. Keep repeating the exact same answer verbatim. Do not expand on it. Do not add to it. Nada. This might feel uncomfortable at first but just do it. They can’t use what they don’t have.

* When you feel that you’ve said what you want them to have then feel free to end the interview (even if the half-hour isn’t up). Just stand up, turn off the mic, grab your recorder, make some polite excuse and make like Elvis and leave the building. Let your watchdog observe them as they pack up and leave.

After the Interview:

* Before they leave, they may want to get what is called “B-Roll” footage of you walking about your environs. Whether you decide to grant this request or not will depend on how things have gone up to this point. If you are sure they are hostile or are unsure, then I suggest not granting this. It won’t help your position and it will give them lots of footage over which they can add their own narrative that will probably be damning to you.

* If they do turn out to be hostile to your position then, sadly, the best you can hope for is that they don’t use any of your interview at all. That means that they didn’t get anything from you that would help them make their case. Congratulations! That’s as close to a perfect score as you can hope for in this twisted game.

I hope that helps…

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