Helping journalists, producers and conference planners find the female guests, speakers and expert sources they need.

Media Calling? Here’s What to Ask

by Meredith Dault

imagesIt’s Tuesday morning and you’re busily catching up on work at your desk when the phone rings.. It’s a journalist wanting to ask you a few questions about some breaking news – a topic you happen to know quite a bit about.

Whether it’s a request for a TV or radio interview or someone looking for a quick quote for a newspaper article, you can significantly enhance your preparedness by asking some key questions of your own about the context:

What kind of interview is it?

Is the journalist after a quick on-the-spot quote for a newspaper article, or are you being ‘pre-interviewed’ by a radio or TV producer to see if you’re the right fit for their program? Make sure you know what you’re dealing with right off the bat.

If it’s a broadcast interview (radio or TV): 

  • What do you want me to talk about?
  • How long will the interview be?
  • Who will be interviewing me? Will that person be in the same room as me, or will they be in a different space? (If you’re doing a television ‘double-ender’, you’ll be alone in a small studio facing a camera and hearing the interviewer, who could be in a different city, in your ear. It’s nice not to be surprised at the last minute).
  • Will anyone else be interviewed at the same time? If yes, who? Is it a panel discussion? If not, will I be expected to respond to another guest’s interview? Will we be in the same space or in different studios?
  • Will I be able to see the questions in advance? (The answer is usually no because of a fear you’ll over-prepare, but you can always ask).
  • Will you be editing the interview or running it in its entirety? (Editing allows for the possibility of cutting around any mistakes or taking out a question in the interest of time).
  • Will a version of the interview also appear online? (Some outlets, like CBC News, repurpose some of their radio and TV interviews as articles on their website).
  • Should I bring my own coffee? (No really: in these times of austerity, many media organizations no longer provide coffee, no matter how early the interview. If you need the caffeine jolt, arm yourself accordingly!)

TV-specific questions: 

  • Will the interview be taped in a studio under serious lighting? If so, do you have a make-up artist on hand to provide powder or foundation? (If not, you may want to invest in a bit of that yourself so you don’t look especially washed out.)
  • Will I be seated behind a desk, shot from the waist up, or on a set where my entire body is visible (e.g. couch, high stool, requiring you to think about whether you want to wear a skirt – tight-fitting ones often ride up and expose more of your thighs than you may have planned on revealing)
  • Are there any colours or prints I should avoid wearing? (e.g. if the background is black, and you wear black, your head may end up looking like it’s floating)
  • Is it true that the camera adds 10 lbs? (Kidding, Don’t ask that; it’s a myth perpetuated to keep Hollywood starlets too weak to protest being paid less than their male colleagues.)

Radio-specific questions: 

  • Will the interview be videotaped? (Some radio outlets now have cameras in their studios which they use periodically to create web-friendly content from their interviews. It’s best to ask so you can prepare accordingly).

If it’s an interview for a print or online article:

  • Will I be able to review the article before it goes to print/is posted online? (The answer to this is also usually no, but some journalists will let you review your own quotes out of context). You could instead offer, if relevant:

“Given the complex nature of the issue and how unfamiliar it is to most members of the public, I would be happy to check the scientific or technical accuracy of any relevant explanations before publication, if that would be helpful.”

Of course, today’s speedy technological changes and the rise of social media mean the lines are blurring between types of media, with more newspapers featuring video on their websites, and with more broadcast outlets focusing on creating web content. If you have a question about what they want from you and how they’ll be using your interview, never hesitate to ask.

In the meantime, if you missed Shari’s post recent post featuring advice from CBC Ottawa journalists, you can read that here.

Sign up to receive workshop notifications, occasional blog posts and our quarterly newsletter

JOURNALISTS: Sign up to receive alerts for sources for breaking news stories