Friday, April 18, 2008

Brass Tack #14. Offer them a chance to interview.

You may have sent the same information to every journalist on your distribution list and each of them will be aware that the information is not exclusive. If they run with your story, they may want to turn it into a unique news item with its own angle and geared to the interests of that readership or audience. Offering a chance to interview one of the story’s protagonists is one way if helping them achieve this.

Interviews are popular with editors as they can add colour and human interest to stories. Don’t assume however that all journalists are straining at the leash to fire questions at your interviewee. It really depends on who that person is and whether they actually have anything interesting to say. There’s a big difference between a top Hollywood actor passing through the area and a local shopkeeper complaining about a lack of parking spaces.

Interviews can be time-consuming, especially if the reporter has to travel across town to a hotel room and give up half the day to gain access. The story has to be worth the effort.

For promotional stories, a frequent tactic is to offer an opportunity to interview someone over the phone at a pre-arranged time. This is a handy way to talk to a touring musician, for example, who may well be in a different country at the time the journalist is preparing the story.

Alternatively, if the interviewee is willing, you might set up a series of 10-minute interviews for individual invited journalists at a mutually convenient location. (As a music journalist I was one of three writers selected to interview the American folksinger, Tom Paxton during one of his rare UK tours. He was an experienced and eloquent interviewee and our conversation proved highly productive, giving me enough material for an extended newspaper article and the main feature item for a national music magazine.)

Here are a few points to consider when setting up interviews:

  • Will your interviewee do more harm than good? Being interviewed is a skill, especially if it is on radio or television. He or she should be a good, articulate speaker with something interesting to say. It is a good idea to prepare some exclusive anecdotes or ‘factoids’ to feed to each journalist; these could well determine the angle or headline of the final story.
  • The interviewee may be the voice of your organisation and what they have to say in the heat of the conversation may make a big impact on that organisation's reputation, especially if the topic is likely to be contentious. Preparation is the key. Think of the three most difficult questions that may be asked and have the answers prepared.
  • Make sure the speaker knows in advance who is going to interview them and which publication or broadcast organisation they work for. It always breaks the ice to start the interview on first-name terms and journalists respond well and produce better stories if they feel that the interviewee values the opportunity to speak to them.
  • Provide background information in advance to the journalist, for example, in the form of easy-to-read bullet statements. The chances are that the journalist will not get round to preparing for the interview until the last minute (many journalists work best when they’re up against the deadline!), so accessible background that is simply expressed is always appreciated and can establish the sort of questions you would prefer to be asked.

    There are many more useful tips on giving successful interviews, including here, here and here.

Filed under:
media relations       press release       journalists      interview


Sherrilynne Starkie said...

Excellent tips. Thank you Peter.

Anonymous said...

Hello, I stumbled upon your blog while looking for anything that would assist me in my current problem. As someone from the education industry who's had much experience in the field of journalism and media, i hope you can help me - I'm a prospective international transfer student who has earned a place in 2 universities; 1 ranked in the 30's for a 2nd yr entry for one major-Journalism, while the other university is ranked in the 70's for a final yr entry in Journalism and Media. Would it make a difference careerwise, as to which university I graduate from? I have work placement experience in some of the world's most prestigious organisations to back me up but is that combined with more experience and a good degree (1 or 2:1) enough to secure a job? Would i get denied a job simply because i graduated from a lower ranked university? I would be so grateful for any advice that you give me. Thank you


Pete Wilby said...

Hi 'anonymous' - I'll have to respond via this public forum and would welcome anyone else stumbling here to add comments if they wish.

To be honest, I don't think the choice of university is the biggest factor for you personally as far as your career is concerned - there are other factors which are more likely to make an impact.

Your work experience is one of them. Career opportunities in media are usually boosted by what you have produced and achieved as a media producer rather than what academic qualification you have achieved. Work experience plus a good portolio of published articles or evidence of initiatives you've taken, e.g. in launching a magazine, blogging, etc. will impress many employers more than which university you went to.

Another factor is what you actually do at the university, e.g. your dissertation subject or specialist research area which could become the subject of a job interview. Linked to this is the year of entry. The higher ranked university in your case insists on Year 2 entry - this would in theory make it more likely for you to establish your research interest and possibly get a higher degree classification. Many univerities use the second year to help students develop research skills and explore research areas. Students enrolling for the final year have to jump into the deep end when researching and could run a higher risk of getting a poorer mark.

A further issue that can make a difference with some employers is whether the university course is recognised by the profession and accredited by a professional body. Accreditation does not guarantee that the course is better but it could make a difference.

Finally, bear in mind that the reputation of the university as a whole may not coincide with the reputation of specific course. The course I teach on has an excellent reputation for preparing students as media professionals and we often get into the Guardian's Top 10 Media Courses because our students get jobs quickly - we score highly in this respect. This is not to say our course has a better reputation than the university as a whole, but course rankings can mean more than overall university rankings.

I hope this has given you food for thought - and that other contributors may add to this?

Anonymous said...

I think I've made my decision and I feel so much more confident of my choice =)
Thank you!