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No. 61 – Preparing for News Media Interviews – 1

February 22, 2012

Interviews by news reporters are often of more concern to health physicists than any other form of communication. Usually the occasion for a TV interview is some kind of emergency situation where conflict, stress, and fears are involved. In the urgency of the situation, you may have little time to prepare for an interview, you may not have all the facts, and your attention may be needed for responding to the emergency. While you are trying to get control of the situation, the last thing you want to contend with is a TV interview. Despite the competing pressures and demands on your attention, you still want to present a favorable image of yourself and your organization. The following series of insights may help you accomplish that purpose.

How Do You Demonstrate Competence?

The first concern of most health physicists, when preparing for new media interviews, is how to demonstrate technical competence and control of the issues. We see competence and control as the two factors that determine our credibility. For this reason we usually devote most of our efforts to developing the content of our message. You may recall, however, the insight offered in an earlier article on the 10/90 rule for credibility in communications (Communication Insight #5). Namely, a general audience watching your interview on TV will judge your competence mostly (90%) on how you present yourself, in terms of voice tone, mannerisms, and body language, and only 10% on what you have to say.

In preparing for a news interview, you should realize that most of the time you will be much more knowledgeable on the technical aspects of the news event than either the reporter or their audience. Your technical knowledge is what normally qualifies you as an authoritative spokesperson. Your technical credentials are what open the door for a news media interview, but seldom will they be the determining factor on what the reporter eventually uses from your interview.

How Will the News Media Judge Your Competence?

Since journalists are mainly interested in value conflicts, they will look for:

  1. your knowledge of the issues;
  2. your basis of values on the issues;
  3. your professional opinion, or the official policy of your organization;
  4. short crisp answers that are to-the-point, free of jargon, and delivered in 30 second “sound bites” or less;
  5. and your feelings on the issues.
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