Some tips for preparing yourself for the effective work of the media in your community. Part 2

Dealing With the Media, How to be Interviewed by the Media, Making a Media Kit

Some tips for preparing yourself for the effective work of the media in your community. Part 2

Dealing With the Media

Always try to call the media early in the morning. The later it gets, the harder it is to reach contacts and the less time reporters have to write the story or to reserve a news slot. Always return calls from reporters immediately!

Be excited and professional. It is always important to tell the truth. If you do not know the answer to a question, say so honestly and offer to find out the information if possible.

The animals we work for are in desperate need of our help and lies or inaccuracies will only hurt their cause. Once reporters know you are an accurate and reliable source of information, she/he will be more likely to work with you in the future.

How to be Interviewed by the Media

Radio/TV talk shows and news interviews can be a very powerful vehicle for activists to get their messages out to a broader audience.

Here are some tips for being effective when interviewed by the media.

Rules and tactics

• Be informed. This is the golden rule. If you don't know the issue you are there to discuss, someone else should do the interview.

• Don't agree to an interview unless you know your subject better than the person you're being interviewed by - or if it is a debate, the person you are up against, and can head her or him off at the pass. Make sure your information is reliable and can stand up to critical examination. Anticipate the kind of questions, particularly the hostile questions, you are likely to get.

• Be calm. However much the issue, or your opponent, angers you, don't let it show. Generally the calmest person is the one whom the audience sees as the winner. This doesn't mean you can't be passionate and enthusiastic but your passion and enthusiasm must be tightly controlled and mustn't, repeat mustn't, spill over into anger. If necessary, take a deep breath before answering the question. Be polite but firm with everyone.

• Be concise. It's amazing how little time you get. Learn to talk in 15 second "sound bites." You must know exactly what you want to say, and say it in as few words as possible, with clarity and determination. The main point must come at the beginning of the interview: you should summarize the whole issue in just one or two sentences before expanding on your primary theme.

• It's the answers that count, not the questions. Have at least three points you want to make during the interview and be sure you make them. When being interviewed, you must know exactly what you want to say and how you want to say it. Don't be too concerned about answering the question: deal with it as briefly as possible, then get to the points you want to make. End the interview having made your points as effectively as possible.

• Don't try to make too many points. You want to have a maximum of three main points of argument. Any more and both you and the audience will get lost.

• Finish your point. If the interviewer tries to interrupt you before you've got to the important thing you want to say, don't be afraid to carry on talking until you've said it. Sometimes it's useful to say "Just a moment" or "If you'd let me finish". Be assertive without being rude. Don't let yourself be bullied.

• Simplicity. Make your points as clearly as possible. Use short sentences and simple words. Try not to use a sentence within a sentence or you'll confuse the listener.

• Lastly, dress the part. Unless the topic is diversity in animal activism, media interviews are not the place to showcase rainbow colored hair and multiple body piercings. Dress to influence the minds of peoples opinions you seek to change, not those who are likely to already agree with you.

Turn hostile questions to your advantage.

There are several ways of doing this:
• Deal with the question quickly, then move on to what you want to talk about. The simplest and safest way of handling tricky questions is redirection; agree with part of the question, then show that it's not the whole story. Example: "Yes, of course human health is critically important, but that doesn't mean we should neglect animals altogether. At the moment, three animals each second are dying in a U.S. lab and cancer rates are still going up. Clearly, the way we're doing things now isn't doing humans or animals any good. The situation needs to change."

• Deliberately misinterpreting the question. "You're quite right, I am an extremist. I hate rape all the time, I hate child abuse all the time. The same is true with cruelty to animals. Whatever the excuse, I am against it all the time."

• Undermining the factual content of the question. In other words, don't let the interviewer push you into a corner. (eg Q: "But, given that animal research is necessary to cure human disease, what you're really doing is putting animals before humans." A: "In fact you're wrong to suggest that animal research is necessary to help sick humans. By focusing so much on animal studies, animal researchers have caused unnecessary suffering and death to both animals and people. Take drug testing, for example...").

• Always bring your answer back round to your main points.

Leave your notes behind. If what you want to say isn't in your head, you shouldn't be interviewed.

Speak up. You're not having a casual chat with the interviewer or the other guest. A media interview is a golden opportunity to persuade mass numbers of people, and you must get your points across in such a way that the viewer or listener can't possibly ignore them. This means you must put more emphasis into your voice than you'd do in a normal conversation. It might sound strange when you first do it (be sure to practice before you do a real interview), but on air it'll sound fine. In fact, if you don't practice, you'll sound unfocused and probably flat and boring. TV and radio interviews are all about passion and authority. Good interview subjects must sound passionate and knowledgeable to make a positive impact.

Use your body. On TV your head and torso should stay fairly still (which makes you seem solid and trustworthy), but your hands can be used to lend emphasis to what you say (they can help to drive your points home). Expressive eyebrows can be useful too.

Humor. If you can do it without making it sound frivolous or irrelevant, humor can go a long way in helping win your audience over. Gently making fun your opponent's position can be quite effective. ("Well, let's take a look at the National Association for Biomedical Research. One of its main funders is the pharmaceutical industry, who, as the name suggests, wants to sell you and I drugs. Unfortunately, over 100,000 people die each year after taking prescription drugs that have passed animal tests so they haven't been that successful. There is another fine example of why humans don't go to veterinarians when they get sick. ..").

Don't hate your opponent... or at least, don't appear to. Yes, I know. When dealing with animal abusers or those who support them, this is the hardest task of all, but it is absolutely necessary. Whatever you might think about the person you're up against, you must leave your feelings behind when being interviewed by the media. If you allow yourself to hate them, you are more likely to lose your cool, lose focus and - most importantly - lose public sympathy. One way to approach this is to regard your opponent as someone who has been misled and needs to be told the truth. Think of your role as being to put them right, rather than to put them down, and you'll find that when being interviewed you'll be a lot more effective.

And remember - when being interviewed, you are there to tackle one issue and one issue alone, not to detail every animal issue that has existed from the dawn of time. Concentrate on one issue, and you'll be a lot less stressed out - and more effective.

Making a Media Kit

If you have a lot of information you would like to share with the media, you might want to make media kits. They should be given to reporters who show up to cover your event or news conference.

Here are some ideas on what you might want to include in the kit (you should place these items in a pocket folder, if possible with your organization's name on the front):

  • Your news release

  • a factsheet

  • Background information on the issue

  • Newsclippings related to the issue

  • Information on your organization

  • A colorful brochure


Read also:

Some tips for preparing yourself for the effective work of the media in your community. Part 1

Some tips for preparing yourself for the effective work of the media in your community. Part 3

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