Here are some tips to help you get ready for and respond to a reporter's questions. REMEMBER: You can always contact me for help.
First Things First
- Write down the reporter's name, where they are from, phone number, and story deadline.
- Ask what s/he is doing a piece about.
- If it is TV or radio, ask if the interview will be live or taped.
- Determine who the appropriate person is to answer questions on the topic.
- If you are the appropriate person but are not prepared to talk, simply ask if you can call back at a specific time, but respect the reporter's deadline. Even 15 minutes will give you time to get ready.
- If you are not the appropriate person, assign an available expert who will positively reflect the library and then help him/her prepare.
- Remember that reporters' schedules are determined by "breaking" news. Do not be offended or snide if an interview gets canceled or rescheduled because a more urgent story arises.
- Jot down a few notes on the topic you want to be sure to get across. Do not write sentences, just bullet points.
- Avoid library jargon; use lay terms.
- Make sure your points are clear and to-the-point.
- Be prepared to support your message with brief examples and facts.
- Keep in mind what your patrons need/want to know and how the topic will impact them.
And, We're Live!
- Know that everything you say is on the record, from the time you meet or talk with the reporter until s/he leaves the room or hangs up. There is no such thing as off-the-record.
- Respond to the reporter's questions with confidence and enthusiasm. You may be someone's first impression of the library, so make it the best possible.
- Start with the basics. Offer a brief background on the subject if the reporter appears to need it.
- Be brief! Reporters are looking for a sound bites and short clever quotes. Television and radio may use only a 10-20 second cut of your entire interview. The shorter your comments, the less likely they are to be taken out of context.
- Keep the interview positive, even if the subject is negative or the reporter's questions turn negative.
- If the reporter's questions veer off track, politely steer the interview back to your message. Stick to your main points and do not allow yourself to get drawn off on tangents. Repeat your point(s) if necessary to get back on track and don't talk too much.
- Repose the questions in your responses. The reporter's questions may be edited out and your responses should stand on their own.
- If you do not understand a question, ask for clarification. If you do not have the answer, say so. Tell the reporter where to find the information, or offer to get back to them with the answer.
- Never say, "no comment." If you cannot or do not choose to answer a question, explain briefly. For example, "It is our policy not to discuss lawsuits currently in litigation" or "I can't answer that because I haven't seen the research paper you are referring to."
- If the reporter runs out of questions or does not know what to ask, steer. Talk about the story topic in terms like "many people ask . . ." or "our readers most like to . . ." or "we get in excess of 100 attendees when we . . . " or "blank really attracts kids in our community." Build a relationship with the reporter by making them feel in control.
- If you are not sure the reporter understood some of your point, ask him/her if they have any follow-up questions.
- For television interviews, wear solid color clothing. Stripes, plaids, or other designs can cause problems with color TV pictures. Avoid large, jangling, or reflective jewelry.
- Look in a mirror, if possible, just before going on camera. The reporter will not tell you that your collar is folded over or your hair is out of place.
- Choose a quiet location with an attractive motif. Hold your calls and turn off your computer. Avoid rooms with loud background hums from air conditioning or heating units.
- If you agreed to a live interview, make sure you have practiced thinking on your feet.
- Do not answer questions too quickly; pause briefly before answering. This helps the reporter get a "clean" sound bite and also has the added benefit of allowing you time to think out your answer.
- In a TV interview, look at the reporter, not the camera.
- Stand or sit still during radio or TVs interviews to control volume and noise pollution.
- Contact the reporter to thank him/her for taking the time to cover the story and for supporting the public/community library.
- Ask when the story will appear/air. The reporter may not have an answer, but if s/he does s/he'll be happy to tell you.
- Offer to do a 'fact check'. It is unethical to ask a reporter to share his/her story before publication, but if you offer to check facts, it gives the reporter an extra set of eyes to gain them maximum credibility.
After the Story
- Give positive feedback to reporters, if merited, after a story appears. Like the rest of us, they usually hear only complaints and rarely get a call or note to say they have done a good job.
- If an error appears, let the reporter know right away. Sometimes a correction can be printed or aired. You also will want to prevent the incorrect information from being used as background for future stories.
- If you are unhappy with a story, share your concerns with the reporter first. Contacting his/her editor is a last resort.