Category Archives: Newspapers

14 interview tips for print, TV and radio

Whether you’re preparing for a big interview, or your client is, or you need to train someone on how to be interviewed by the media, here are some tips to help make it as good as possible.

1) Always speak clearly and simply. Don’t use science or technology (or whatever field you’re in) jargon. Pretend like you’re explaining something to a third grader.

2) Find the time (if possible) to outline what points you want to say or answers to questions you anticipate. Write down everything you’d like to give in a response, then go back and edit it down to its simplest and shortest form.

3) We all goof up. If you realize you’ve accidentally said something incorrectly, offer correct information as soon as you realize what you’ve done. This isn’t as easy if you’re being interviewed live on television, so don’t lose your cool. But admitting you made a mistake is much better than letting the wrong information spread into public knowledge.

4) Never assume. If you’re being interviewed for an article, and you think the reporter has heard something incorrectly or you can sense there’s a misunderstanding of something, provide another, better explanation.

5) Follow-up is key. If you promise you’ll get back with the reporter with extra information, find out her/his deadline and get it there well before that.

6) It might sound like a no-brainer, but when you’re preparing for a television interview, know whether it’s going to air live or taped. Then enjoy feeling a little more at ease if it’s taped.

7) If you’re not accustomed to doing television or radio interviews, record yourself speaking so you know what thousands (millions?) of others are going to hear. If you’re happy with what you hear, that’s great. If you’re terrorized by the sound of your own voice, then work on it.

8) Speak simply and clearly. Again, record yourself practicing your answers, so you can determine if you need to slow down or speed up or enunciate. Nerves make us talk faster. (Avoid being over-caffeinated pre-interview!)

9) Know what your body does when you’re talking. Be aware of your gestures. Make sure they look natural. Don’t flail those arms.

10) Find out ahead of time, for a television interview, if you’ll be standing or sitting, inside or outside. Then dress and style accordingly. (No short skirts if you’re sitting; tie your hair back if you’re outside so you won’t be fidgeting with blowing hair while on camera; don’t wear white socks with sandals; don’t wear a shirt or skirt that’s too tight when you sit down.)

11) Make sure and ask where to look. Usually you look at the reporter, not the camera.

12) Be aware of your fidgets and don’t do them. (Playing with fingernails, biting inside of mouth, playing with your hair.)

13) For radio, know what type of format the program is: if it’s a hard news story, your interview will probably be brief and full of sound bites. For a talk-show format, you may need to fill 15-30 minutes with content. Make sure to be able to fill that time.

14) If you’re giving a radio interview by phone, stand up while talking! (Same works for phone job interviews.) It makes you more alert and helps your voice to carry clear and strong. Trust me, it’s obvious if you’re lying on the couch with your hand in a bag of Fritos.

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Changing hats: PR pro by day, freelance journalist by night

Several months ago, the most prominent orchestra in the world, the Vienna Philharmonic, came to the college where I work for a rare performance. Within the larger event were smaller stories to be told, which is almost always the case. This time I had a good one to tell: there’s only one American member of the Vienna Philharmonic, and he happens to be from Tennessee. Several of his friends and former teachers were able to travel to Kentucky to see this performance, friends who otherwise couldn’t have gotten tickets to Carnegie Hall in New York, the only other venue in North America in which the Vienna Philharmonic has ever performed, or in Austria, where the waiting list to see the orchestra perform is years long.

It’s a pretty great personal interest story, and I pitched it to several of Tennessee’s major newspapers. The Knoxville News Sentinel was interested because the Vienna Phil member went to college in Knoxville, but they couldn’t afford to send someone to cover it. Damn. If I was interested, however, I could write the story on a freelance basis. Bingo! PR pro turned back into a journalist in an instant. My undergraduate degree is in journalism communication, and I was editor of the campus newspaper several semesters.

Thus is the nature of the PR profession. Several weeks ago I spoke to a journalism class full of undergraduates about the benefits of a journalism major to a PR career. This is a prime example. It’s too easy to slip into PR verse: fluffy, lovely words and nothing but glowing things to say about your organization. I was able to re-edit my story enough so that when the published version came out, hardly a thing was changed. Had my freelance submission required tons of editing, it might have been scrapped. Not only was it not scrapped, but the story won a first-place feature-writing award recently, thanks to the great value of its content.

For the most part, it’s journalists who delve into the PR field, not PR folks who delve into the journalism field. Which helps illustrate the point that choosing a journalism path early in your career doesn’t mean you can’t leverage that knowledge and experience into a career in a different aspect of communications. In fact, it’s an excellent and ideal foundation. And isn’t putting yourself on the other side of the issue and being able to understand those you work with the key to a successful career in any field?

The press release still isn’t dead (part two)

As promised, here’s part two of what a panel of speakers I put together for this year’s Kentucky CASE (Council for the Advancement and Support of Education) conference had to say about the value of the press release and how social media fits into their story-creating processes.

The panel was comprised of four speakers purposely chosen from a broad spectrum of traditional media outlets: an NPR radio news director, a monthly print magazine editor and publisher, a TV news anchor, and a pop culture reporter for a major daily newspaper. This blog entry looks at the magazine editor and TV news anchor’s thoughts; click here for what the radio news director and the daily newspaper writer had to say.

More important perhaps than if the press release is dead or not was the need for each journalist to discuss how she or he uses social and new media to find, create and distribute news stories. How do we combine these press releases we spend so much time writing with the social media we’re all on in order to more effectively get our messages out to our audiences?

Monthly magazines don’t care about news, but they do like social media

Steve Vest is the founder, editor and publisher of Kentucky Monthly magazine. The reason I recruited Steve for this panel is because I’ve interacted with his magazine’s presence on Facebook numerous times, and I wanted to hear more about their venture into social media.

For example, earlier this year, KM on Facebook asked its fans for some “retail therapy” recommendations. I commented on the status update with a recommendation for a little boutique in my town. And wouldn’t you know: in its March 2010 issue, my comment appeared with others under a “What you said…” feature. Very cool, especially since I was doing some publicity for the boutique at the time!

Steve gets about 400 e-mails a day. There’s no way he can get through them all, he says. No joke. Most of us can’t get through ours, and I personally don’t get close to 400 a day.

“If someone wants to contact me, they can do it on Facebook,” Steve tells us. He says he’ll accept just about anyone’s friendship request if he can pinpoint why they asked to be his friend.

In relation to the magazine, Steve says that querying fans on its Facebook page is a great place to get background information for print stories, just as my above “retail therapy” story illustrates.

Then Steve tells us he doesn’t care about news. We all pause for a split second to contemplate this before our little “aha!” lights come back on. Of course he doesn’t: monthly magazines don’t exist to break news. They’re there to inform and entertain in a luxury-item sort of way. Steve represents the chillbilly publication on the panel.

And Facebook lends itself to being an ideal place to post queries for potential magazine article sources, he explains. Then again, Facebook also lends itself to stories with quick turnarounds, as the Courier-Journal pop culture reporter explains in the first blog post. Point: Facebook is pretty great for queries with almost any deadline. And for media relations folks, too: In my job, I’ve used Facebook several times to get sources for web and alumni magazine stories.

TV stations should be in Facebook frenzies

Finally, we have Amber Philpott, evening and night co-anchor at CBS affiliate WKYT. Amber says her station is in a “Facebook frenzy.” It wasn’t something she had to consider professionally until about four years ago when social media began taking off. Now, her station’s presence on social and new media outlets allows them to break news in places other than a newsroom desk.

“You might hear breaking news on Twitter or Facebook before it even comes out of my mouth,” Amber tells us. “It could be 20 minutes before something posted online is put on TV.”

The demand for our news to be everywhere has, of course, not just changed how we receive the information but—more importantly—the day-to-day job of the TV journalist.

“We’re field TV journalists, and then we come back to the station and become print journalists, too,” she says. And photographers, videographers, and social media experts. WKYT’s web presence is no longer simply a web site: it’s a web channel that contains print versions of the TV stories (that may include additional information the TV version didn’t have), links to supplemental and interactive items on Facebook and Twitter, and live streaming of broadcasts. In fact, WKYT has a web-only 4 p.m. newscast. This was news to me and information I found to be very exciting.

And this all takes a lot of time. “It’s sometimes overwhelming,” Amber says.

Each journalist puts her own stories online each day. And it’s crucial that you do it, Amber says, because folks are going to be looking for them immediately after they air. The station also has a “social media task force” that works to cross promote web channel, Twitter and Facebook content to maximize exposure.

Amber is still a lover of the press release, and especially from colleges and universities, who have a very important resource for TV news stations: experts that can comment on and localize national trend and event stories.

Lastly: what’s possibly the best way WKYT uses Facebook and Twitter and where media relations professionals can work in some more sources? The classic MOS interviews: (wo)man on the street.

“Social media is a Godsend for MOSs!” Amber tells us.

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The press release is not dead (part one)

Media relations professionals are always wondering when the press release is going to bite the dust. Well, it isn’t anytime soon, says a panel of speakers I put together for this year’s Kentucky CASE (Council for the Advancement and Support of Education) conference.

The panel was comprised of four speakers purposely chosen from a broad spectrum of traditional media outlets: an NPR radio news director, a monthly print magazine editor and publisher, a TV news anchor, and a pop culture reporter for a major daily newspaper. This blog post looks at the radio news director and the daily newspaper writer; in a few days, we’ll see what the others had to say.

More important perhaps than if the press release is dead or not was the need for each journalist to discuss how she or he uses social and new media to find, create and distribute news stories. How do we combine these press releases we spend so much time writing with the social media we’re all on in order to more effectively get our messages out to our audiences?

The first speaker to take the floor was Charles Compton, news director at NPR affiliate WEKU. In addition to transitioning in the near future to a more interactive web site, his station has a presence on Twitter and Facebook and a strong new media presence on listeners’ phones. An iPhone app and an opt-in text message system allow listeners to quickly learn about breaking news and upcoming stories, says Charles.

He warns us that we must be careful about overusing social and new media: “You’ll disappear into the static.” Indeed: it takes just one unfortunate experience to be unsubscribed from, blocked, un-liked and opted out of.

“I still enjoy news releases,” Charles says, who uses them especially as supplemental material when he’s getting a story. “Of course I take notes during an event or interview, but it’s always nice to have something to go back to.” Okay, check: traditional press releases are still good for background information.

What media relations folks need to consider, Charles says, is creating a more interactive press release: one that’s not just e-mail copy, but that also contains short audio bites and video clips. Even though NPR’s primary presence is on the radio, as Charles explained earlier, their station’s web site is evolving past text and the occasional photo into a fully engaging and interactive newsroom.

As the press release continues to be relevant, what’s even more relevant, Charles says with a smile, is a press release that’s well written.

“I’ve found many a good lead at the bottom of a press release,” he told the room full of higher education communicators.

Next up is Tamara Ikenberg, pop culture reporter for the Louisville Courier-Journal, who has written about how people incorporate social media into their everyday lives, not just professionally. By the way, while she’s a huge Facebook fan, don’t talk to her about Twitter. They don’t get along.

One of the topics Tamara and I discussed at length to prepare for this session was how media relations professionals fit into a journalists’ social media presence. Can I contact her on Facebook just as I might using e-mail and phone? Is there a separation of church and state, so to speak? For instance, would she accept my friendship on Facebook, and if she did, would it cross boundaries to “talk shop” there?

“Facebook is an endless source of stories and sources,” says Tamara, whose professional and personal Facebook presences overlap. That is, she has one Facebook account that she uses for both personal and professional purposes. One status update might be a movie quote, and the next one might be a call to former boy-band lovers for a story.

She says that recruiting sources for her pop culture stories is especially good for quick-turned reaction pieces. Example: for a reaction story on the Lost series finale, within 15 minutes Tamara was able to reconnect and draw feedback from the same sources she had previously used for another Lost story.

“My source list on Facebook keeps growing,” Tamara explains. “When I create a note for a query, I tag friends and friends of friends, and then they pass along the query.”

This journalist prefers that media relations folks e-mail her press releases, rather than send them to her via social media (and certainly not through the U.S. mail). She makes sure to point out that of course communication preferences have a lot to do with the existing relationship between journalist and media relations professional. Very true: and I’ve found that just asking at the beginning of the relationship is the easiest way to settle the matter.

And like Charles, Tamara touches upon the importance of an accurate press release: “Make sure it’s correct before you send it my way!”

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