Handling newspaper interviews
One of the great things about doing newspaper interviews is that they are not “live” like much of radio and television is. This takes the pressure off you a bit. And it gives you a chance to think a bit more before you answer, and to also explain your answers in more depth, if requested.
Before the interview
Before you do the interview, find out:
- Which newspaper the journalist is from.
- What kind of story she or he is writing – is it hard news or an in-depth feature, or a profile, for example?
- Ask what angle the journalist is taking on the story.
- Ask which section of the newspaper the story will go into.
- Ask what the deadline is.
- Find out whether the interview will be over the telephone or in person. In person interviews are much better all round – you get a chance to chat with the journalist a bit and get to know them.
- Try and set up an interview time that will give you enough chance to prepare.
- If you need to, say you will call back soon and confirm whether you will do the interview. This will depend on your organization’s policy.
- If you have the go ahead, prepare your main messages for the topic.
- Be prepared for and able to answer the journalist’s basic what, when, where, who, why and how questions.
- You may be able to help the journalist with some background information before the interview – often journalists are very appreciative of this.
- Think of and suggest some interesting photo opportunities for your organization – a story with a photo is much more interesting for readers.
During the interview
- Be friendly, professional and relaxed.
- Most newspaper stories are fairly short – unless they are features. So it is important to respond to the questions clearly and concisely. The more you say the more will be edited out. And unlike with live radio or television, you have little or no say as to how your story is printed.
- Do not elaborate on a question unless the journalist asks you to or unless you can make a new powerful point by doing so.
- If you can’t answer the question, say so. Offer to find out the information and get back to the journalist. And once the interview is over, track down the information and get it across to him or her straightaway. If you can’t get the information, let them know.
- If you trust the journalist you may want to share background information to help him or her understand the context of the story. “Background” means that she or he should not use it in the story at all. You may want to share some information that the journalist can use but you want him or her to disguise the source. This is called talking “off the record”. “On the record” means that the journalist can use what you have told them and quote you. A note of caution – some media liaison people would warn you that nothing is background or off the record for journalists who are pressured by their editors to deliver a hot story. It is best to develop a trusting relationship with a journalist of integrity before you give background or talk off the record. Of course, you will be the best judge in your particular situation.
- Suggest photograph possibilities if the journalist is carrying a camera or a photographer has come along.
- You may even have some good file photographs that could complement the story.
- Offer the journalist publicity material from your organization.
After the interview
- Look out for the article when it is published, make copies.
- Stick one copy on your notice board.
- Ask members of your organization for feedback on the article so that you can all learn how to strengthen handling the media.
- Keep the article to use in an organizational publication, like your annual report, if it can be used as good publicity.
- Thank the journalist for taking an interest in your organization and its issues.