When being interviewed by the media – whether it’s for press, television or radio – one of the most important things to understand is that journalists go about their business in a way that’s different from that of people in most other walks of life.
For a start, if you work in news, you are subject to imminent deadlines or (in broadcasting) very tight time slots in which you can conduct an interview. In other words, there’s not much time to hang around. Journalists need to get to the heart of a news story or an interview topic immediately, without dillydallying around.
A lot of people don’t understand this when they are being interviewed, particularly on a TV or radio news channel.
The fact is that most people, whatever their walk of life – academic, lawyer, scientist, researcher – approach a given subject in a certain way. Should they be writing a thesis, a paper, the minutes for their boss etc, they tend to focus initially on the background information, the context, the evidence. This is spelt out step-by-step as they form the building blocks of their piece of work.
Eventually they arrive at their conclusion.
In journalism, particularly in most interviews, the approach is completely the reverse.
Journalists need the conclusion first, and how we got there comes afterwards.
So keep this in mind, whether you’re writing a press release or preparing yourself to be interviewed.
If, in your press release, the actual announcement you’re making is buried on page 3 following 2 1/2 pages of build-up and background, the press release will likely go straight into the newsroom wastepaper bin – unread. A journalist has read the first paragraph, can’t see the new story, doesn’t have time to wade through 15 paragraphs before they find it, and so dumps it.
On TV or radio, you can sound very defensive or obfuscating if you don’t get to the point straightaway. Besides which, it wastes valuable airtime.
So, let’s say your university research department has made a major breakthrough in the treatment of a terminal illness.
The first question from your interviewer is: “How will this new treatment save millions of lives across the world?”
In reply, what we don’t want to hear are words like: “Well, to understand this fully we need to go back to 1927.” No we don’t. What we need to hear straight away from the department head is exactly what difference the new treatment will make to the lives of people today, not long a meandering journey through the history of all the research that lies behind it.
In broadcast news a favourite adage is: “Tell us what you think and then tell us why you think it.”