media interview traps

Media interview traps – how to avoid two of them

Media interview traps are relatively easy for journalists to set and for interviewees to fall headlong in to. At The Media Coach, we try to keep you safe by identifying the most common ones and giving you tips and techniques to avoid them. So it’s useful to look at two examples of interview traps which happened in recent days: being indiscreet near a microphone – even when you think you are not being recorded – and the journalist trying to get you to go ‘off message’ to create juicy headlines. The first trap resulted in days of embarrassing, negative publicity while the second was neatly avoided.

media interview traps

There are some well known media traps but people, even professionals, regularly get caught by them.

Media interview trap 1: Cameras are always on and microphones are always ‘hot’

During every media training session we drill into people the need to be very careful around microphones and cameras before and after an interview; in fact, whenever you are in a TV or radio studio. But familiarity can breed contempt and this week we saw even one of the UK’s most experienced journalists, BBC presenter John Humphrys, get caught out when he made controversial comments in a studio without realising he was being recorded.

He wasn’t on air at the time and was just chatting with a colleague before recording an interview when he made what he has since insisted were “jokey” comments about one of the biggest media stories in the previous week; Carrie Gracie’s resignation from the post of the BBC’s China editor because men in other editor posts were paid considerably more than she was.

The story about the lack of equal pay at the BBC had been running for several days and probably would have been winding down, but with the leaking of the recording, it is now right back up the news agenda.

One of John Humphry’s BBC colleagues, Jane Garvey, summed up the incident nicely when she tweeted:

media interview traps

Media interview trap 2: going off message/just reacting to the journalist’s questions

Also in recent days, experienced media performer, Stanley Johnson, (father of Foreign Secretary, Boris) deftly demonstrated how to avoid another common media interview trap, which I call the “while I’ve got you here, can I just ask you about…” question.

Mr Johnson was appearing on a phone in on Radio 5live’s Emma Barnett show after the UK Government announced proposals to curb plastic waste in the environment. After giving his view on the proposals, and mentioning Boris, Emma Barnett, seized the opportunity to go slightly off-topic with Stanley Johnson in search of a potentially juicy headline by revisiting the very public falling out between his son and the now Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, during the last Conservative leadership contest. ( You can click here for the full interview which starts at 1 hour 24 minutes and 55 seconds and will be available for the next three weeks.)

media interview traps

Stanley Johnson refused to be drawn when asked about the relationship between Michael Gove and his son Boris Johnson.

When asked to respond to the comments from his daughter Rachel that Mr Gove had stabbed her brother Boris “in the front and the back”, Stanley Johnson neatly spotted the potential for negative headlines which could overshadow his environmental agenda. He simply took the sting out of the topic by refusing to get drawn in and saying “I don’t think it’s a good idea to distract from talking about the environment” before going back to his key messages on his intended topic.

This is an effective example of the bridging technique which we teach during Media Coach training sessions to ensure interviewees can avoid being drawn off-topic and ending up with headlines they never intended.

Finally, to avoid both traps, the two cases illustrate the need to take media encounters seriously, focus and remain disciplined at all times.

Photo 1: Pixabay
Photo 2: Creative Commons

 

 

Catherine Cross

About Catherine Cross

Catherine Cross hosts our Crisis Media Training, Media Training and Presentation Training courses. She has delivered sought-after communications courses globally since 1998. Catherine is also an expert in Public Speaking Skills Coaching, Message Development and Crisis Communications. Her excellence was recognised by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations which awarded Catherine Approved Trainer status every year from 2003 until 2012, when the scheme ended.

Catherine Cross was the Director / Lead Counsel of Hill+Knowlton Strategies’ Media and Presentation Training Team in London from 2008 – 2017. During this time, she designed, developed and ran global training programmes for numerous clients in a wide-range of sectors.

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1 reply
  1. David
    David says:

    Your latest blog reminds me of the classic ploy from the late Lord Whitelaw. When accosted by a journalist in an open situation ( ie not a studio or press conference ) and bowled a question , Willie would feign slight befuddlement thus: “Terribly sorry, didn’t quite catch your name….” To which the poor journalist had no other reply except their name and the organisation they worked for. At which point Willie would seize the journalist’s hand in a brisk and firm handshake, at the same time booming: “Really? Remarkable! Thank you very much. Must dash…..” leaving journalist spluttering pathetically. Among the political reporters it became a by-word, as in: “Blast, I’ve been Willied again.”
    It probably helped that Lord Whitelaw generally chose to conceal his considerable political weight behind a well crafted image of amiable old buffer-dom, but highly effective all the same.
    Best regards
    David

    Reply

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