What can a media interviewee learn from how journalists are portrayed in movies? Quite a lot, even if it’s sometimes an inaccurate depiction.
Take a scene from Eddie the Eagle, the new film about the plucky eponymous British ski jumper. After initial success at the Calgary Winter Olympics, Eddie (played by Taron Egerton) is shown in a restaurant; a national newspaper reporter sidles up and questions him about some apparent kiss ’n’ tell revelations. Only after Eddie gives an answer or two does the reporter bring out his large clunky recording device (well, this was the late 1980s…).
In the real world of tabloid journalism this tape recorder is unlikely to have appeared part-way through the process; it would have either been there at the start, or, much more likely, given the pressure for a Fleet Street “scoop”, not been visible at all.
After all, there’s nothing like spotting a piece of recording equipment to make a reluctant interviewee clam up.
This partly explains why print journalists in particular can be very resourceful when it comes to finding other sources of information for their stories.
If a potential primary source is less than forthcoming, this can be essential, not just useful.
So picture a possible scene for you: a journalist has turned up unexpectedly at your workplace. While you decide whether to grant them an interview, they might well be:
- flicking through the visitors’ book to see who else has been to see you recently – the local MP, someone from the Health & Safety Executive, or a representative from a leading law firm perhaps…all people the journalist might contact later, regardless of whether you give them an interview or not;
- glancing at notice boards. Perhaps there are sales graphs pinned to them, or notices about a meeting to discuss a serious staff grievance;
- overhearing conversations in the foyer about a product to be launched.
Then, if you do decide to be interviewed, always remember the print journalist could easily acquire far more than just your quotes from some more “sources” – once you’ve allowed them beyond the Reception desk, they might well have access to information and areas perhaps usually given only to staff.
- what details have been left on that flip chart in the board room?;
- what conversations are going on by the water cooler?;
- what are staff chatting about as you and the reporter travel in the lift to the 14th floor?
- what did you say to a colleague when the reporter popped out to the bathroom mid-way through the interview, when they forgot to switch off their tiny recording device on the table?
We’ll leave the rights, wrongs and ethics of the above for another day, but for now it’s worth remembering that doing a media interview should never be a leap into the unknown – it requires thought, consideration of the “what ifs”, an understanding of the challenge and the possible pitfalls, as well as appreciating that your contribution as an interviewee might be just one “ingredient” in the finished article. To acquire all that requires training, just like Eddie’s ski jumping.
Overlook that key preparation and you risk careering down a slippery slope, with reputational damage – or worse – awaiting you at its base.