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In their own words: what the media really wants from an interview

http://www.grayling.com/GraylingInsights/GraylingBlog/2010/01/In-their-own-words-what-the-media-really-wants-from-an-interview/

Posted on 21.01.2010 by Justin McKeown

 

Exposure in the media can be highly beneficial for a brand or organisation. We talk about controlling the messages. We practice techniques for communicating what we want to say. But what does a journalist, reporter or presenter really want from a spokesperson when the interview starts?

We have spoken to a number of high profile international media professionals from TV, radio, newspapers and trade publications. We asked them two key questions. The results might make you think a little differently about your next interview…


1. What does a reporter really want from an interviewee?

News Editor of a weekly sector-leading trade magazine
“Openness is key. It’s also really important that they can give me the detail that I need. Our readers are experts in the sector so we can’t afford to print anything that isn’t thorough and accurate. I don’t mind if whoever I’m speaking to needs to go away and get more information but they need to be prepared to do so. I’d rather speak to someone more junior that has the relevant knowledge than a token senior spokesperson who can’t give me exactly what I need, when I need it. Rank is important for quoting people but so is specialist knowledge.”

Political Correspondent for a national newspaper
“If I’m writing about a major news story that has widespread impact, every relevant commentator will want to have their say. If I am going to interview someone, they need to have something significantly different to say on the subject; there’s no point giving me a generic comment that I could get from anyone. They also need to have a personal opinion rather than just an objective viewpoint. However, most importantly, I need them to tell the whole truth and not skirt around the subject.”

Radio and TV Business Correspondent
“Whether I’m interviewing someone for TV or radio, it needs to be someone who understands the medium. On radio, an interviewee needs to be able to paint pictures with their words and not sound dry or use actions that won’t translate to readers. When I interview someone for TV, it always works best when they help set the scene with their actions and movements rather than just stand on the back drop I put them on, they need to be able to interact with the surroundings.”


2. What are the biggest mistakes that spokespeople make in interviews?

Editor of a national business magazine
“Interviewees need to remember that I do hundreds of interviews with people who all want me to print positive things about them and their organisation. I’m prepared to listen to what people have to say but will only use it if it suits my piece. I just get frustrated if I have to listen to too much spin. They’ve got to add value to my article, not just get an advertisement for their organisation.”

News Editor of a weekly sector-leading trade magazine
“A frequent problem is interviewees who are unnecessarily evasive. Some people that are interviewed try to dodge questions or appear to be holding something back. This suggests they’ve got something to hide, even if they haven’t. I usually interview people over the phone and my advice would be that if the person doesn’t find it natural and comfortable to speak on the phone, don’t put them in touch with me.”

News Reporter for a major radio station
“We’re looking for interviewees that actually understand how interviews will be used. We work under the constant pressure of deadlines. If we are looking for a soundbite, it can’t be longer than 15 seconds so if they talk on about anything that’s not relevant, it could be cut before they get chance to make their key point. There’s also no excuse for being late. News bulletins will not wait!”

In general - although there are exceptions - the media is not trying to trip up or embarrass the spokespeople that they are interviewing. They just want to write articles and make TV and radio features in which their readers, viewers and listeners have an interest.

However, they work under pressure and they want to work with people who understand their needs. Honest, forthright opinions from experts are welcomed.