How to Survive and Win with the Media
How to Survive and Win with the Media – a Self-Defence Course for Interviewees, by Brian Edwards and Judy Callingham
Brian Edwards and Judy Callingham have distilled their 25 years of experience as the country’s top media advisors and trainers. The book should be required reading for anyone in business or public life. It guides the reader through the full experience of being interviewed, from first contact with the journalist to seeking redress for unfair treatment
Buy the ebook on Kindle here:
Does it matter how a political leader looks?
The simple answer is: probably not a lot. But given that the difference between winning and losing an election may be no more than one or two percentage points, an advantage in the attractiveness stakes may be significant. Being plain or physically unattractive, on the other hand, is of itself unlikely to lose an aspiring leader votes.
It isn’t difficult to find examples of this phenomenon. Kennedy, Clinton, Trudeau and Blair were all leaders whose good looks, charisma and sex appeal undoubtedly enhanced their electoral chances. Less attractive men – one thinks of Kirk, Muldoon, Lange – suffered no apparent loss of electoral support because of their size or appearance.
My examples are all male, in part because historically men hugely outnumber women among world leaders, in part because the pattern may be different for female politicians.
Sexism undoubtedly plays a role here. A female leader’s looks and grooming are considerably more likely to be commented on and critiqued than her male equivalent. A male MP can look like Quasimodo and display the dress sense of an unmade bed – many do – but the fact will rarely come up in conversation, let alone be commented on in the media.
There is perhaps no better example of this than Helen Clark whose unruly hair, less than perfect teeth and deep voice were fodder for her political enemies and elements in the media, while her supporters spoke warmly of her beautiful skin and stylish wardrobe. Of less consequence than which side you were on in this debate is the remarkable fact that the debate not merely took place but began when she first entered parliament in 1981 and was still going when she left in 2008.
Did it do her any harm? Seemingly not. She is one of a very small group of New Zealand Prime Ministers to have held the reins of power for three terms and arguably one of the greatest.
It’s possible that stunning good looks in a female politician might even be an impediment to electoral success, reflecting the male chauvinist view that beauty and brains are incompatible. There are, to my knowledge, no jokes about beautiful dumb blonde men.
On the other hand, but in the same male chauvinist spirit, having a beautiful/sexy wife – Margaret Trudeau, Carla Bruni, Michelle Obama – may enhance a male leader’s image. What a guy!
Husbands are probably irrelevant in this context. The often mocked Denis Thatcher seemed to do The Iron Lady no harm. Margaret Thatcher herself, neither unattractive nor a great beauty, was apparently possessed of great sexual appeal. Her admirers included Rob Muldoon, evidence in both cases perhaps of the dictum that power is the greatest aphrodisiac.
These ramblings were occasioned by the revelation that Phil Goff has been dying his hair and John Key has not. I have some advice for each of them:
You are both going grey and losing your hair. There is no cure for either. The best thing to do is accept the fact and age gracefully and with dignity. Your greying locks may even lend you an air of experience and wisdom. Grey, blonde and white strands are also less noticeable on a balding pate than brown or black strands. Check it out in the mirror when you’ve just had a shower. Thinning dark strands of hair make you look like The Baldie Man. So I think Phil would have been better not to have dyed his hair in the first place and should quietly let it go back to its original colour. We know how old you are, Phil, and we don’t mind.
Next, if either of you feel you have to have a makeover, do it slowly and discreetly. Voters are suspicious of makeovers, whether actual or courtesy of Photoshop. They want to see the real you.
Finally I see that New Zealand’s Next Top Model judge, Colin Mathuru-Jeffree, has offered to give Phil some catwalk training to correct his overly jaunty gait in parliament. On the whole I think it’s a good idea. On the other hand, we don’t want Phil doing a Danielle Hayes or a Naomi Campbell down the corridors of power. That would be terribly confusing.
How not to handle a media crisis!
After a major rail crash in the UK, the Chief Executive of Railtrack, agreed to appear on Newsnight – then backed out with a lame excuse. The result was a far worse media crisis than he’d originally faced.
When Good Microphones Go Bad
It’s easy to forget you’re wearing a microphone – or even in range of one. The hazards of the radio mic are often exploited in comedies (think Leslie Nielson in Naked Gun), but they can create very real problems as Gordon Brown demonstrates:
If you’re in a studio, it’s worth remembering that everything you say can be heard in the control room – and possibly all around the building on the ring main – so this is not the time for intimate confessions, salacious gossip or derogatory comments.
The best way to stay out of trouble in the presence of any microphone is to behave as if it is broadcasting, or at least recording. It probably is.
The Fear Factor
I’ve met many brave men and women in my life. People who have battled with pain with courage, handled crises with strength, faced death with dignity. The bravest were those who were afraid, because that brings its own special battle.
In our work we deal almost daily with people who fight fear of quite a different kind – fear of the microphone, fear of the camera, fear of the studio. We watch them go pale or mottled, struggle for breath, try to perform with hearts pounding so loudly they can barely hear. That fear is just as real – and sometimes so intense it’s paralysing.
Most people are nervous in front of the camera. In fact, most broadcasters will admit to occasional ‘nerves’. The difference is that broadcasters welcome them; that’s what gives them the edge, the heightened performance they want.
The trick is that they know how to control nerves and how to use them. Broadcasters, actors, public speakers and performers can convert that energy into excitement, into a high that carries them through their performance and can leave them exhilarated at the end of it.
Most people who appear on camera can be taught how to do the same. Part of it is psychological, but the vital component is learning and practising the techniques that give you the physical control to beat that fear into submission.
I spend quite a lot of time working on these techniques with our clients: the psychological tricks, the exercises, the physical control. It’s not an overnight fix. Like any technique it requires practice. But it can be done, and reasonably quickly – by most people.
I say most people, because there are just a few who will never be able to face the media. Communications staff often recognise this, but have difficulty breaking the bad news to their bosses. We don’t have any difficulty with this, because we know that for people with paralysing nerves it’s actually often the good news! They know they can never give a credible performance, and when we sympathise and confirm this, they are invariably relieved and delighted to appoint a more relaxed spokesperson.
Sometimes the Big Cheese is happy to be a mouse when it comes to the media.
The Eyes Have It.
The eyes have it on television. They tell us what you’re thinking, what you’re feeling, they make us like you – or not. We need to see a person’s eyes to make an assessment of them, to make a connection with them.
So – glasses on, glasses off? It’s a question we’re asked all the time. There’s no simple answer, but there are some guidelines:
- A pair of glasses is a barrier between you and the viewers. All glasses obscure your eyes to some extent.
- If you sometimes wear glasses, you’re probably better without them
- If you always wear glasses and you take them off, you’ll probably look a bit like a mole
Our general advice is, if you’re comfortable without them, take them off. If you’re not, don’t.
That said, there are definitely specs that work and specs that don’t. Many broadcasters who wear face furniture have special pairs for the studio.
- Transition lenses can darken under the studio lights. They’ll definitely go darker if you’re outside in daylight. They should be avoided for television.
- The best glasses for the screen have fine frames, and lenses large enough not to cut across the eye. Better still if the lenses are frameless.
- The new, fashionable glasses with small lenses and strong, dark frames look dreadful on telly. Even worse are the ones with tinted lenses. You might as well be wearing a carnival mask.
- Sunnies may be cool, but they’re not cool when you’re being interviewed on television.
And the most important tip of all:
- If you’re wearing glasses on telly, make sure they’re sitting properly. If the top of the frame cuts across your eyes you’ll lose all your impact.
If You Don’t Get a Fair Go…
If you’re unhappy about the treatment you’ve received from any branch of the media, you have a number of possible courses of action. Which course you take will depend on the seriousness of your complaint.
If you feel you’ve been misquoted, quoted out of context, unfairly edited, misrepresented, mistreated, misled as to the intention, style or nature of the item, you should write to the immediate superior of the journalist or reporter who did the story. This will normally be the Chief Reporter in the case of a newspaper, the editor in the case of a magazine, or the Head of News and Current Affairs in the case of television and radio. If that fails, approach the next person up the chain, and the next, and the next, until you reach the top.
If you still get no satisfaction from the publication or broadcaster, you can take your complaint to the Press Council, in the case of newspapers and magazines, or the Broadcasting Standards Authority, in the case of radio and television programmes.
The Press Council is a voluntary body supported by the industry and has no power to compel newspapers to do anything or to punish them for their misdeeds. However, its findings on a complaint will be taken very seriously by the publication concerned and will be published by them whether favourable or unfavourable.
The Broadcasting Standards Authority is a statutory body and has available to it a range of punishments for breaches of the Broadcasting Standards. These include compelling the broadcaster to broadcast an apology or retraction, imposing a fine on the broadcaster or, in extreme cases, requiring it to be commercial free for a period.
You should consult a lawyer if you believe you’ve been defamed.
On the other hand, if you feel you were fairly treated, why not let the immediate superior of the interviewer or reporter know that as well. Journalists don’t get a lot of positive feedback either.
The Fine Art of Saying ‘No’.
The media is wooing you, but you don’t want to give an interview.
Just how do you say ‘No’? Well, the first thing not to do is to make dishonest excuses. ‘Look, I’d love to come but my husband’s got the ‘flu and I can’t find a babysitter.’ The truth is that you’d hate to come, there’s nothing wrong with your husband and your youngest child is 17. So what are you going to do when they ring back 10 minutes later to say that they’ve employed a state registered nurse to look after the family while you’re out? Oh, what a tangled web we weave…
This sort of difficulty arises because most of us feel we have to justify our actions by giving reasons. We don’t. Assertive people realise that the best reason for not doing something is not wanting to do it. And that should be your approach when turning the reporter down.
No comment’ is a cliché, and it has the ring of evasion to it. There is an assertiveness technique called ‘cracked record’ that we recommend for dealing with this situation. It consists of constantly repeating your message without giving reasons:
You: I’ve given the matter some thought and I’ve decided that I’d prefer not to appear on Probe.
Journo: Why not?
Y: Well, I’ve thought it over and I prefer not to be interviewed.
J: Yes, but why not?
Y: Basically because I don’t want to.
J: Well, this is very difficult for us. We’ve made all the arrangements.
Y: I’m sorry to hear that.
J: Don’t you feel that you have an obligation to the public to clarify this?
Y: That’s one viewpoint, but it doesn’t alter my decision.
J: You realise that we’ll have to say on air that you refused to appear?
Y: Will you?
J: It won’t look good. People will think you have something to hide.
Y: I’ll just have to take that risk, because I’ve decided not to appear…
Your reason for not appearing is because you don’t want to. You are not going to be drawn into an argument about it. Eventually the journalist will go away.
Why is it so important not to give reasons for your decision? Because as soon as you do so, you’re effectively giving an interview: ‘You must realise this is a very sticky situation for us, and all hell is breaking loose round here at the moment. We’ve never had anything like this happen before and heads are going to roll…’ Headline: “ALL HELL BREAKING LOOSE AT MONSTER ENTERPRISES – HEADS WILL ROLL”.
‘Cracked record’ is a fail-safe way to avoid this sort of trap.
Of course, your reason for not agreeing to be interviewed may be simple and straightforward:
- The matter is sub judice.
- The matter is commercially sensitive.
- You’re not the right person to talk to.
- Your contract doesn’t allow you to talk to the media.
If this is the case, say so. But if you don’t have a darn good, honest excuse, don’t say anything.
What are you going to ask me?
Journalists almost never tell you the questions they’re going to ask you in an interview. They certainly won’t supply you with a written list of questions.
Only if the information they want is strictly non-contentious and informational would a journalist agree to provide questions in advance. If, for example, a reporter is writing a feature on your new processing plant, and the purpose of the feature is simply to provide the audience with interesting facts and figures, she might well give you a list of all the things she wanted to know and was going to ask.
But if there is widespread antagonism to the siting of your new plant, which is going to be a blot on the local landscape and probably pollute a nearby stream, the reporter certainly wouldn’t tell you her questions in advance.
This doesn’t mean you have to go into the interview blind. Journalists are obliged to tell you the general question areas in advance if you ask for them. So, in this case, the reporter might say that she intended to deal with the issues of:
- The visual impact of the plant;
- Your company’s lack of guarantees that no environmental damage will occur;
- Your company’s relationship with the local people;
- Your company’s past record in other areas;
- The possibility of a compromise being reached.
This outline would allow the reporter to deal with all of these areas in depth in the interview. She could have numerous subsidiary questions, cite as many examples and produce as much evidence as she likes to back her assertions, provided that she remains within the general bounds of the agreed topic areas.
If, however, she suddenly turns in the middle of the interview to the topic of the personal financial crisis you suffered five years ago, before you joined the company, you would be entitled to refuse to answer the question and to terminate the interview.
In telling you the question areas she was going to discuss, the reporter effectively formed a contract with you which she later broke.
What Not to Wear
A lot of time and angst can go into choosing what to wear for a television appearance. Our basic advice is simple: your clothes should be appropriate for the occasion and the programme. A three-piece suit will look plain silly on Country Calendar; shorts and gumboots won’t do you any favours on Q+A.
The trend these days is towards informality. Even John Campbell has given up wearing ties much of the time. A suit or jacket with an open-neck shirt looks fine in most settings, unless you want to be very formal. On many programmes you can abandon the jacket. Take a look at what your host is wearing.
The camera has difficulty with all black or all white. Black can make you disappear into the background of some sets. White can make you look like the victim of a bad spray tan. So it’s sensible to choose a pale colour rather than white, and to leave that sexy, dense black number in the wardrobe.
Red can be a problem as well. In the days of black and white TV, reds came out as white on camera! Very disconcerting if you spotted yourself on a monitor. Be aware that red will stand out far more than other colours. You can use that to your advantage, of course.
Some colours work well on telly – if you’re not sure, stick to greys, blues, greens, fawns and soft oranges. Purple looks great if you can wear it. And beware: any colour that doesn’t suit you in real life will make you look dreadful on camera.
Tricky little patterns, tweeds and fine stripes give the camera a headache, and it will respond by “strobing” – that visual buzz you see with some patterns and fabrics. So plain is better than patterned, clean lines are better than fussy ones.
Women have some extra things to think about:
If you’re seated in long shot or on a couch (think Breakfast, Good Morning,Sunrise, Q+A) please, please don’t wear a short skirt unless you look like a super-model or you’re a professional exhibitionist. Firstly, we’ll see a lot more leg than you imagined and with thighs squashed on the couch it may not be a good look; secondly, perspective will make your knees look enormous. Longer skirts or trousers are the safest thing.
Avoid glittery or dangly jewellery. We can’t concentrate on your words of wisdom if we’re fixated on your Christine Rankin earrings or the diamantes disappearing into your cleavage. If you’re being interviewed at a table (Close Up, Campbell Live, Native Affairs) strip off any bracelets or solid watch straps before the interview starts. You’re likely to set up a percussion accompaniment and the microphone will amplify the banging and crashing.
You’ll find a jacket of some sort is great for attaching those microphones. Otherwise the mic cord has to go under, up and out. Never, never wear a high or polo neck without a jacket. You’ll probably end up with the mic clamped to the outside of your cashmere and the cord dangling inelegantly down your front.
Lastly, what you’re wearing should never distract your audience from what you’re saying. You really want people to remember the strength of your argument, not the eccentricities of your wardrobe or accessories.
Audiences and Agendas
Let’s assume that you’re the Chief Executive of The Big Blue Bus Company in a major metropolitan centre. You’ve been in negotiation with the union over a proposed new workplace contract. The negotiations have stalled. You’re offering a 2% wage increase and the union is demanding 5.7%. A driver work-to-rule has been in operation for two weeks, causing huge inconvenience to the public, and the union is threatening a full-scale strike. There’s talk of drivers in other centres coming out in sympathy. You believe that the rank and file members of the union want to see an end to the disruption and would accept considerably less that the 5.7% increase. Every newspaper, radio and TV station wants to talk to you.
But who do you want to talk to and what do you want to say?
These are questions which you have to ask yourself before accepting any invitation to be interviewed: Is there a specific audience which I am trying to reach? What message am I trying to get across to that audience? What is my agenda in this interview?
As CEO of the Blue Bus Company, for example, your agenda might be:
- To place the facts before the general public in the hope of winning their understanding and support;
- To persuade the rank and file union members that their union is not acting in their best interests;
- To put pressure on the union to adopt a more reasonable stance;
- To persuade the government to intervene;
- All of the above.
If you don’t know why you’re there, if you haven’t identified the particular audience or audiences you want to reach, then you aren’t ready to accept the invitation at all.
And there can be a further difficulty – your agendas may conflict. For example, in placing what you regard as ‘the facts’ before the general public, you may alienate both the union and its members, thus aggravating the situation.
A similar dilemma will face the Secretary of the union. If his main agenda in being interviewed is to persuade drivers across the country not to accept the contract, he risks losing the support of an already disgruntled public. On the other hand, if he’s too conciliatory, he risks losing the support of his members.
We always suggest that, if an interview area’s controversial, you should discuss it with colleagues before accepting media invitations. Two or more heads are usually better than one. If there’s a general consensus that the interview isn’t likely to be in your interests or those of the organisation, or if it’s just too darned tricky, then it would seem foolhardy to accept. If in doubt, trust your instincts.
You’ve got a point there.
The first thing we tell our clients, from politicians to pop stars is: ‘Be straightforward, tell the truth – and admit your mistakes’.
In general no-one has too much of a problem with the first two principles. However, although pop stars seem to have turned it into an art form, admitting mistakes is anathema to politicians (unless the mistakes were made by someone else!) and most people have some difficulty ‘fessing up that they were wrong. That’s a pity, because concession is a powerful weapon in the media.
The trouble with denial is that it locks you into a ‘Did, Didn’t’ argument that can waste an entire interview. Most criticism has an element of truth in it. Making a concession will win you brownie points with your interviewer and your audience. It’s refreshing, it’s appealing, and it marks you as an honest person.
Let’s be clear that we’re not proposing that you go into the full mea culpa, beat your breast and then fall on your sword. That’s just nauseating. What we’re suggesting is that, unless there are sound legal reasons why you shouldn’t admit to something, a partial concession will work in your favour.
‘We could have handled that better, but…’ ‘I think we were a bit slow off the mark there, but…’ ‘We weren’t listening as carefully as we should have been, but…’ These are the type of small concessions that, so long as you are offering a remedy, will give you an opportunity to move away from the criticism.
‘But’ is a wonderful word in interviews. It allows you to turn the conversation round and onto the positive points you want to make:
‘We could have handled that better, but let me tell you what we’ve done to make sure it can’t happen again.’ ‘I think we were a bit slow off the mark there, but our IT people have come up with a brilliant new programme…’ ‘We weren’t listening as carefully as we should have been, but now our staff are dealing with these problems much faster and more empathetically.’
This almost forces the interviewer to ask you more about it – which is exactly what you want: to focus on the solution, not the problem.
So take a deep breath and if you got something wrong, admit it. It might do you more good than you imagine.
Is there a ‘Public Right to Know’?
Journalists like to talk of the ‘public’s right to know’, but in most circumstances no such ‘right to know’ exists. In fact you are the one with a right – to conduct your personal and business affairs in privacy.
You forfeit that right if you break the law, if your behaviour invites public scandal or derision or if you have chosen celebrity.
The lawbreaker cannot expect to remain anonymous. Name suppression in criminal cases is anathema to the media and rightly so.
But you don’t have to break the law to forfeit your right to privacy. People who achieve public prominence, whether they seek it or not, are subject to greater media scrutiny than the average person. If, for example, you are the chief executive of a large company, or the executive director of a major organisation, or a prominent member of the clergy or the spokesperson for an influential lobby group, your words and deeds are likely to be of considerable interest to the media. This is particularly true if your words are at odds with your deeds.
When Joe Bloggs has an affair and abandons his wife and children to shack up with a younger model, he is unlikely to be rung by the media for comment.
When the CEO of a large company has an affair and abandons her husband and children to shack up with her personal trainer, the average journalist may be titillated and keen to publish, but will hopefully be persuaded by his editor that it’s irrelevant to the CEO’s ability to run the company and nobody’s business but hers.
But when the Bishop of Waikikamukau or the head of Chastity Incorporated has an affair and leaves his wife and children for a younger model, the media are going to have a field day and, probably, rightly so. The hypocrisy of those in public life is a valid subject of media scrutiny.
Candidates for public office can expect a greater degree of scrutiny than those who vote from them. However, once they are elected the New Zealand media are respectful of the privacy of MPs and local body politicians . They invariably know who’s playing away from home – they just don’t print it. But the media will have no hesitation in exposing dishonesty, hypocrisy or schonky dealings, regardless of the importance of the office-holder.
Finally, those who court celebrity can expect little mercy from the media. The argument is relatively simple and has a certain logic to it: you cannot be selectively famous – you cannot enjoy the benefits of celebrity (money, adulation, privilege) and complain about your loss of privacy at the same time. That is having your cake and eating it too.
So if you’re not a law-breaker, a hypocrite, a dodgy politician or a celebrity, and a journalist insists there’s a public right to know, resist all the way. You should be allowed to conduct your affairs, personal or business, away from the public gaze.
“No Comment”? No Way!
What do you do if you’re caught on the hop and don’t want to answer a journalist’s question? Most people panic and revert to blurting out, “No comment.”
“No comment” is a cliché, and it has the ring of evasion to it. While you might think it is a perfectly neutral way to avoid a media debate, or even an attributed quote, the public will interpret it quite differently.
“Ahha!” thinks the viewer/listener/reader. “There’s a character with something to hide! Something shifty, something fishy, something I’d really, really like to know about.”
Alternatively, if a journalist puts a proposition and gets a “no comment” in reply, that’s frequently interpreted as: “You got that one right! But it’s more than my job’s worth to say so, and I’m not going on telly with a bald-faced lie.”
Either way, you’ll do yourself no favours with this phrase. There are lots of other ways of handling this: “I’m sorry, I can’t/won’t/am not prepared to talk to you about that,” “I think that’s a question you should put to ..… (Someone You Really Hate),” “You’re asking the wrong person, I’m afraid,” and you’ll probably be able to think up a dozen others.
Or you can just ignore the question, which is often the safest way. If you answer, you can get yourself in to a situation that’s hard to dig your way out of. If you’re door-stepped and you don’t want to talk, just keep walking. If you think it’s going to happen, make sure you’re with someone else and deep in conversation. That way the journalist looks rude and interruptive and is less likely to put it on screen.
And what if it happens in the middle of an interview? It never should, if you’ve done your preparation properly, which may include laying down the ground rules for the interview. If you haven’t and it does and you find yourself wriggling like a bug on a pin, you’ve only got yourself to blame.
Down-the-line interviews – avoid them!
When you’re in one city and your interviewer is in another you may be asked to do a “down-the-line” interview. Not many people handle these well, because they pose very special difficulties. Genuine eye contact is impossible, since you are looking at a camera and not at the person you’re talking to. Even if you can see the interviewer in the lens, it’s remote, strange and impersonal.
Because of the technical problems of “feedback”, you have to wear an ear-piece rather like a hearing aid. Earpieces, alas, are not one-size-fits-all. Unless they’re custom-made for you they’re uncomfortable, and they have a habit of falling out mid-interview.
The down-the-line interview is an awkward and unnatural arrangement. It’s hard to be keen and conversational when you’re talking to something on a tripod.
But there are psychological problems with this sort of interview too. In our experience, the down-the-line interview tends to encourage interviewers to be more abrasive than they would normally be face to face, just like people are often braver on the telephone than they are in person. It’s a lot easier to bawl out a tradesman on the phone than when he’s looming over you in the kitchen.
If there is more than one person involved in a discussion and one them is in the studio with the interviewer, that person is likely to get the lion’s share of air time and attention. Even “listening shots” can make comments.
All in all, we believe that unless there’s absolutely no choice, the down-the-line interview is to be avoided. Our best advice is that if you can get on a plane and be in the same studio as the interviewer, it’s time and money very well spent.
If You Can’t Tell The Truth, Stay Away
There are times when it is not in your best interests to be interviewed by the media. The most important one is when you can’t tell the truth.
If you can’t tell the truth – stay away. This is one of our fundamental maxims. You can regard it as moral or practical advice. Since we aren’t in the morals business, we’ll stick to the practical. The best reason for not lying to the media is that you will eventually be found out. You can be as smart as paint, but the media has a finely honed instinct for lies, prevarications and avoidances. In the end, the truth will come out and it will be damaging to both you and your organisation.
The best advice for anyone dealing with the media is: Be straightforward, tell the truth, admit your mistakes. And if your lawyer turns pale at the last suggestion, well, two out of three ain’t bad.
Are They Recording Me?
The answer is – probably. Contrary to popular opinion, it is not illegal to record what someone says on the telephone. Nor is it against the law to record a telephone call without informing the person that you are doing so.
So there’s a strong possibility that when a journalist rings you, s/he may be recording the conversation. The majority of journalists in all branches of the media do this as a matter of course, particularly those working on “investigative journalism” publications or programmes.
There’s nothing sinister in this. Material transcribed from a recording is likely to be a great deal more accurate than the average journalist’s shorthand. And wails of “I was misquoted” are much less frequent since the recorder has replaced, or at least supplemented, the reporter’s notebook.
However, if a journalist records what you have to say without your knowledge or consent and broadcasts your voice later, that’s in breach of the Codes of Broadcasting Practice. But it does happen.
The way to avoid finding yourself on air without your knowledge or consent is quite simple: before responding to anything that the journalist has to say, ask whether the conversation is being recorded. If so, and you’re not happy about it, hang up.
As Good as Cosmetic Surgery
If you want to look your best on television, sit up straight.
If you slouch back in your chair a number of things will happen:
- the key light won’t reflect in your eyes – you need that little white dot to look bright and alert
- your eyes will be half closed unless you’re looking at the ceiling
- your double chin will be exaggerated
- you’ll look like a slob
To make sure you’re sitting in the best position, push your bottom back into the chair as far as you can and lean forward slightly. However, if you’re on a couch or sitting in an easy chair, perch on the edge of your seat and lean on the arm.
Trust us – the difference in the way you’ll look is dramatic. Only a good cosmetic surgeon could do more for you.
The First Date Syndrome
Imagine you’re on a first date with a boyfriend or girlfriend. You’ve taken him/her out to dinner and you’re hoping to impress. What would you do?
First, you’d sit well forward at the table. Sitting forward shows interest and keenness.
Next, you’d maintain a lot of heavy eye contact, again showing interest and keenness.
Third, you’d listen very intently to what your date had to say. A good listener is as attractive to most people as a good talker.
And finally, you’d try to be as interesting and engaging as possible.
Curiously enough, these are pretty good guidelines for radio and television interviews: sit forward; keep reasonably sustained eye contact with your interviewer; listen carefully to the questions; and try to be as interesting as possible.
The first date syndrome – not to be taken too literally of course, but worth keeping in the back of your mind.
No All Blacks or All Whites Please
Wearing an all black or an all white outfit for a television interview isn’t a good idea.
The television camera has difficulty picking out the details in black which also soaks up the light and may make you look rather flat. If the interview is being taped against ‘blacks’ – the large, black, floor- to-ceiling curtains sometimes used as a studio background – you’ll also be in dangr of disappearing.
And avoid unrelieved white. White reflects the light and can also be difficult for the studio cameras. A white shirt of blouse worn without a jacket will ‘flare’.
You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth!
When is a quote not a quote? When is a quote something you didn’t say or even think in the first place? When you agree with a proposition or statement put to you by a journalist, that’s when.
This happens more regularly than you might think. How? Let’s take a hypothetical case.
Your company, The Good Guys, is in the spotlight over a spat with one of your competitors. The media are gathering. As far as possible you stay away from them. You resolve to handle this crisis, in public at least, with calm, good humour and dignity.
You’ve managed to get through a print interview with considerable poise, and carefully steered away from invitations to criticise your competitors, The Super Guys.
The journalist is nothing if not sympathetic to your cause. You feel as though you’ve got a friend at court. When she says, “But their business practices are a bit dubious, aren’t they?” you can’t help but chuckle and you say that you don’t disagree with her.
And then you read in the Sunday paper that you claim “The Super Guys’ business practices are dubious”. Hang about! You didn’t say that – she did. But you agreed with her, so you haven’t got a leg to stand on. You can protest that she put words into your mouth, but unless you spit them out at the time, she can report them as being your opinion.
There’s an excellent example of how journos get themselves a boomerang “quote”. A couple of weeks ago the Herald on Sunday published a story about leaked emails between Janet Wilson and Noelle McCarthy concerning NZ producer Meredith McGrath. The story included this:
Asked for comment yesterday, McGrath said the exchange about her was “nasty and bitchy”.
Replying to Brian’s post on this website, The Really Big News from Godzone, Meredith McGrath wrote:
I agree the story was a beatup. I even suggested as much to Carolyn Meng Yee when she telephoned me on the Saturday afternoon, breathlessly telling me she was giving me my ‘opportunity’ to tell my side of the story and to ‘set the record straight’.
Hence my ‘no comment’.
And in fact, the ‘nasty and bitchy’ comment she attributed to me was not made unsolicited; I was merely repeating back to Carolyn her own description of the emails.
The moral of the story is: Be wary of sympathetic journalists, and never agree with a print journalist’s comments unless you’re happy to have them attributed to you. Maybe even in quotes.