Preparing for the Media
This page covers the following topics: What Journalists Want: Interesting Stories, What Journalists Want: Dependable Sources, Preparing for TV Appearances, and Interview Techniques.
What Journalists Want: Interesting Stories
Members of the media are professionals with a job to do: to tell stories that their readers and viewers will find interesting and newsworthy. Many of us say we want to "use" the media to "educate" or inform the public, but that's not a journalist's job.
First, like any professional, journalists do not want to be "used". Second, education and information are great, but they don't always sell newspapers. Journalists are always looking for stories, but they won't write one unless they think their audience will want to read or watch it.
Whether you're trying to get the media to write a story, or the media want your reaction to one, remember what journalists consider to be the elements of a good story:
A story is interesting only if it affects real people. And in most cases, the more people affected, teh more important the story is. Be prepared to show real examples of real people the news will affect.
News, as the name suggests, should be new. It also can be tied to a holiday (such as Independence Day), recent events (such as the State of Union address), trends (such as obesity in children), or something expected to happen (such as a bill being debated by the legislature). Be prepared to show how the story is new or tied to a current event.
Something in your town or community is more newsworthy than something out of the state or out of the country. People are more concerned about things that happen close to home. If the topic is broader in scope they may want to read about how it will affect them or their community. For example, if there's a natural disaster in another part of the country, you'll probably see stories about the disaster's impact here. Be prepared to show the local side of the story.
The heart of any dramatic story is a conflict. Sruggles between people, nations, or with natural forces make good stories. Be ready to show what is in conflict.
People or events may make interesting stories because they are unusual or bizarre. The old journalistic cliché is: dog bites man is not news, but man bites dog is news. But be careful: just because it's unusual doesn't mean it's newsworthy. People often try to pitch a story by saying, "Nobody's written about this before." If they haven't, then there may be a good reason. Be prepared to show why this is unusual and why readers should care.
- Human Interest
People like stories that carry emotional impact, and stories that all of us, despite our differences, can relate to.
For better or worse, names make news. The bigger the name, the bigger the news. When appropriate, be ready to share the names of prominent people involved in the story.
These points are also very important considerations when you want to reach out to the media. See Reaching Out to the Media.
What Journalists Want: Dependable Sources
Journalists always work on deadlines. A story that breaks at 9 p.m. better be on the evening news or in tomorrow's paper. To complete stories on time, journalists often rely on sources and experts they know and trust to provide immediate, accurate information.
This means a good source can be depended upon to come through in a pinch. It also means a good source is knowledgeable and can convey that knowledge easily.
Think about this as building long-term working relationships with journalists. If a reporter had a good experience working with you for a story she wrote about soybean desease, she may contact you again when writing a story about spring floods that threaten agricultural land.
To be the reliable, dependable source that reporters seek, follow these guidelines:
- Return Calls Promptly
Reporters are always writing on a deadline - for a reporter at a daily newspaper, that means return the call within minutes or hours, not days. Delays mean your side of the story may not be told.
- Know Who You Are Talking To
Ask reporters who they work for and the nature of the story. A particular publication may have particular interests you can address.
- Be Prepared
Review the topic and have notes. Depending on the deadline, it often is OK to ask reporters for a few minutes to gather your thoughts, organize some talking points, then call them back.
- Know Your Message
Predetermine your main points and stick to them.
- Put Things in Context
B riefly provide any relevant background or anecodtes that explain the probelm or situation.
- Use Everyday Language
Avoid jargon or specialized technical terms.
- Slow Down
Be clear and concise and encourage reporters to ask follow up questions to clarify what you've said.
- Don't Speculate
If you don't know the answer to a question, don't guess. Offer to get the answer later (if you can), or refer the reporter to someone who can provide the answer.
- Be Honest
Never lie or stretch the truth (if your dishonesty is discovered, your credibility is lost).
- You're Always on the Record
There's no legal obligation for a reporter to keep anything off the record. If you can't share it with the world, then don't say it. Never say, "no comment" - it can make it look like you have something to hide. Instead, you can say something like, "I'll check on that and get back to you" or "I can't answer that right now. When I have the information, I'll let you know."
- Be Available
Offer to answer follow-up questions or help clarify problems that might develop as the story is being written and edited. Give the reporter your business, and possibly your home or mobile phone numbers if the story deadline extends past your work hours.
- Be Realistic
A reporter's job is to get news, not necessarily to make Purdue Extension (or you) look good.
Preparing for TV Appearances
If a newspaper reporter calls you on the phone, you can probably get away with conducting an interview in your bathrobe. Even if you meet with the reporter in person, it probably won't make much of a difference if you stammer, take a long pause to think, or drum your pen on the table.
But all that changes for television. What you say and how you deliver it will be recorded on tape, and that means you need to make an effective presentation.
This section includes information on interview techniques, appearance, body language and visuals.
You can help drive the interview and get your points across by remembering these techniques:
- Before your interview, practice answering possible questions with short, simple answers.
- Never memeorize what you plan to say - canned remarks are easy to spot and don't always answer the questions asked.
- Always try to guide the discussion back to your key points.
- Avoid one-word answers (yes, no, OK).
- Don't be vague, obtuse, or wordy.
- Avoid jargon - and if you must use it, explain it.
- Never say "no comment" - it sounds like you're trying to hide something. If you have to decline to answer a question, make sure to give a reason (for example, "I can't pretend to speak for all the 4-Hers in my county").
- Don't make reporters work to get answers. Supply the reporter with the right answers even if they don't ask the right questions.
- Try to be upbeat and friendly.
- Ask questions to make sure reporters understand what you're telling them.
- Offer to answer follow-up questions.
For better or rose, people are judged by their appearances. In general, if you're going to appear on television, look professional.
In addition, there are some clothing choices that don't work on TV:
- Don't wear solid, bright red clothing.
- Avoid stark contrasts like a dark jacket with a white shirt.
- Don't wear clothing with thin stripes, busy plaids, or thin-patterned herringbones; these patterns look blurry on a television screen.
- Avoid wearing large, shiny jewelry or bracelets that jangle.
- Don't wear sunglasses or glasses that darken in the sun or under spotlights.
- Women should avoid short skirts, especially for seated interviews.
- Don't wear a hat.
Some advice about what you should wear for a TV appearance:
- Dress simply and tastefully. TV studio lights generate heat, so wear light- or medium-weight clothing.
- Dress appropriately for your occupation and the location. Do not wear a suit for an interview in a cornfield. Make sure clothes are clean and comfortable.
- Wear clothing that will easily allow you to attach a tie-clip microphone. This means a tie or clothing with lapels. You'll also want to avoid wearing scarves or items that hang down and cover the microphone.
- Wear socks long enough to cover the calf when your legs are crossed, but avoid wearing bright colored socks.
Makeup tips for men:
Men who perspire heavily or are bald may use face powder to avoid glare. Paper (not tissue) also helps absorb oil that can make you appear shiny and older on television. Men with heavy beards should shave just before their appearance. Make sure your nails are neatly manicured. If possible, seek advice from the television producer.
Makeup tips for women:
Women should wear regular daytime makeup - no heavier than normal - both in studio and on location. Lipstick will help bring out the eyes but don't over apply it and chose a natural looking shade. Otherwise viewers will watch your lips instead of listening to what you have to say. Choose a light eye shadow and avoid the kinds that shimmer or glitter. Nails should be neatly manicured and if polished, a pale shade is best. Keep hair off your face and out of your eyes. If possible, seek advice from the television producer.
The way you sit, talk or move often tells a viewer more than the words you say. When appearing on television, keep the following things in mind:
- Slow Down
Make sure you speak at a speed that allows viewers to understand your message.
- Avoid Sitting or Standing Motionless
On the other hand, don't move excessively.
- Keep your Hands at Your Sides or Gesture Briefly
Hand movements can look exaggerated on screen, but don't grip the chair either.
TV accentuates good and bad facial expressions.
- Look at the Interviewer, Not the Camera
Concentrate on looking directly at the person and block out the periperal activity (if you look away, you'll appear distracted).
- Don't Shift Your Eyes
Don't do this even during questioning - when you look down, stop talking.
- Don't Drum Your Fingers, Wiggle Your Feet, or Cross Your Legs
It can make you appear nervous.
- Don't Nod to Indicate You Understand the Question
Nodding may signal agreement with a point you don't hold
- Remove Everything from Your Pockets
Just in Case
Visual aids can make TV interviews more interesting. When possible, offer to supply visual elements the producers can use.
Some studios can incorporate slides into interviews or use videotapes. However, make sure your visuals are high quality. Amateurish and sub-par visuals look bad and will not be used - worse, they can make you look bad. Whenever possible, ask the television producer what visuals will or will not work.
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