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A Guide to Talking to the Media from an Insider

By Edited Jan 11, 2016 0 0

I am th

e media.  I work as a reporter, editor and producer for a network.

Cue the hisses, catcalls, tomato throwing and villagers with torches and pitchforks.

I know my job ranks up there with lawyers, politicians and used car salesmen.

I am also just like you. I'm actually a little shy.

A major part of of my job is talking to people. It's also one of the best parts of my job.

Why would you have to talk to the media?

You don't, but you may want to.

In 1968 Andy Warhol talked about everyone having fifteen minutes of fame. You may be called up to reach your fifteen minutes of fame as someone who witnessed a remarkable event like a tornado, or as a spokesperson for your group or organization.

Ahead, lets look at the three types of people we regularly talk to, and how to make talking to the media a pleasant and productive experience.

Who Does the Media Talk to?

There are three types of people we interview on a regular basis.

1. People who are elected or who have authority and must be accountable for their decisions.

2.The man or women on the street. (my favorite)

3. Someone who wants publicity.

Authority Figures

Almost every major organization or government department now has a communications person.

Their job is to manage the media. That's exactly what it sounds like. When the mayor announces a million dollar program to feed the homeless, his or her communications person will serve him or her up on a platter.

When half of that money goes missing, the communications person will work very hard to explain why the mayor is too busy to comment.

There was a time I could phone my mayor at home. Those days are gone. Now he has a guy who makes more than $80,000 a year to manage his image, tweet his messages and update his Facebook profile.

The communications person also takes bad news and tries to put a positive take on it. That's called "spin".

The Man or Woman on the Street.

You are the person who survived the hurricane.

A Television Studio

Your son or daughter just got selected for the Olympic team.

Your bowling league has just recruited you as their official spokesperson.

There are hundreds of reasons why the media may contact you.

What do they want?

In a nutshell, they want your story. They want the who, what, where, why and when. They also want emotion. They want to know how you were feeling during the hurricane. What was going through your mind?

It is the human element that makes a story strong. Real people with real stories resonate with the listener, the reader and the viewer.

Unless you are doing a live interview, you can expect your story to be edited. Radio and television work digitally and the tape goes into a computer program. With the click of a mouse we can cut out ums, and ahs.

We can pull out a clip or sound bite to used in a news story. The editing systems are very fast and very efficient. When I first started in radio we literally cut tape with a razor blade. It was very time consuming.

People are often surprised to find how little of their story makes it to air after spending a long time talking to a reporter.

Radio news stories are rarely longer than one and a half minutes. Television stories are rarely longer than two minutes. That varies from network to network and the importance of the story, but those are rough guidelines.

Let's go back to the hurricane example. You've spoken to a television reporter and now you're tuning into the local news. The reporter or anchor will read a script as pictures of the hurricane damage show up on the screen. Then you are on, talking about how frightening the hurricane was. At the bottom of the screen is the caption: Joe Smith Hurricane Survivor. That's called the super. Your on-air time will likely to be 15-20 seconds. That's it. Then it's back to the reporter or anchor reading more script under more visuals. Then it's on to the next story.

In today's fast paced media world, your fifteen minutes of fame has shrunk to fifteen seconds.

Some people are very comfortable talking to the media. Others are not. Strangely enough, I fall into the latter category.

If you are not comfortable, say so. A good reporter will reassure you, explain the process and work to gain your trust. A bad reporter will badger you. You know what to do.


Someone Who Wants Publicity

We often talk to authors after they release a new book. Most are great interviews. They often speak passionately about the subject of their book. They also realize that they are getting a lot of free publicity and the interview is a great opportunity to sell more copies.

If you are promoting a major sporting event, a fundraiser or even a high school variety show it's worth while contacting your local media to see if they are interested in an interview.

They will often agree. Newspapers, radio and television stations realize that people care about what's happening in their own back yard.

It's important to be enthusiastic when you are promoting an event or a product. If you sound excited, that translates into excitement for the listener, viewer or reader.


Behind the Scenes

Working in the media is a fast paced profession. What's news today is often gone tomorrow.

Most major news outlets hold at least one story meeting a day. Reporters offer up story ideas based on things they've seen or heard. They often have a large list of contacts and sources.

Other reporters may be assigned to cover news conferences. Who and what are important. When is also a critical factor. There are deadlines for print, radio and television.

Editors must line up the news. What is the top story? What goes next? How many column inches does the story deserve? How long should the radio or television story be?

Every day starts clean. There is rarely anything that can hold. Every day reporters must find the stories.

I hope this helps if you are ever called upon to talk to the media. If nothing else, you may never look at your evening newscast in the same way.




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