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No. 68 – Preparing for News Media Interviews – 8

April 11, 2012

Social Role Positioning

Even though you are the technical expert, manager, or authority in a particular newsworthy situation, you can still chose the social role that you wish to represent. For example, you can still respond as a concerned parent, a member of the community, or as a caring individual. If you anticipate that the audience may have concerns for potential risks to their children, then you can respond not only as a technical expert, but as a concerned parent or grandparent. In other words, give the audience the benefit of seeing or hearing you as a real person with the same concerns, values, needs, and feelings that they may have.

If you do not chose your social role, the reporter and the audience will automatically assign you a role which may be contrary to your best interests (or those of your employer). For instance, if you are involved in performing radiation measurements to determine the extent of contamination at a site, the reporter may wish to present you as a spokesperson representing commercial interests of big business or the incompetence of big government that allows radioactive contamination. You do not have to accept the social role expected of you by a reporter. Instead, you can frame or position your comments to reflect the social role that will aid your credibility and allow you to communicate the message that you wish.

Suppose you are interviewed about a contaminated site where you work. You could say:

“My job here is to monitor contamination that may spread into the surrounding environment. I also live nearby and I know my neighbors will want all the facts that we can give them. I also want to know if I should be concerned for my own children as well as other children that live in this neighborhood. Families have a right to know about anything that could affect them or the value of their homes. I am personally going to make every effort to provide the information that my neighbors need. Let me show you how we are doing the monitoring.”

Obviously, any statements offered have to be the truth. If you do not live near the area, you do not want to say that you do. Although you could say, “If I lived here, I would want to know…to assure protection of my family.” Reporters may expect you to respond according to your technical role, position, or job title, but you do not have respond as they expect. After all, you are also a member of the public and a concerned family person who cares.

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