Media training for the marathon swimmer

edited September 2013 in Resources
This post is intended to be different from the Media Guidelines post.

For those of us without media training, who may occasionally find themselves thrown in the deep end of media attention: what are the do's and don'ts of talking with reporters? I got thinking about this reading an @evmo comment on his approach to media:
I approached it sort of like a channel swim - keep a steady head, and beware of sharks.
But there's more to it than that, right? Anyone really good at this sort of thing?

This week aside, I've occasionally chatted with reporters about an upcoming swim, perhaps trying to get attention to help with fundraising (2012) or promote the sport in a region (2013), or simply let my family and friends know I'm still alive (2010). Chances are, it won't be too long until I'm at it again.
I don't wear a wetsuit; it gives the ocean a sporting chance.
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  • @malinaka - if your interviews were even a % as good as your data crunching - you must have been golden!

    For a past job I used to get hauled out to do the local and some network TV interviews (automotive industry, issues like Toyota brakes failing, cash for clunkers, etc.) Favorite - CNBC and CNN. To this day, still afraid of a Fox personality who shall go un-named!

    The key points I recall (other than don't wear all black or all white and for god's sake put some make-up on, brush your hair and don't let lipstick sit on your front teeth)

    - Ask in advance of the interview if they can send questions over (most will)

    - Give the answers to the questions you wished they asked v. exactly what they asked. You're the expert which is why they are interviewing you... they may not know the "right" questions to ask. Make sure you get YOUR information out. IF they really want their question asked, they'll ask it again

    - It's not always about being right, it's about getting people to ASK the right questions. Don't feel like you have to have ALL of the answers but state what the questions are the listener or reader should be asking about the subject/event/incident

    - People love numbers, data and/or lists so say how many people have accomplished, fastest time/worst time, oldest/youngest OR lists such as what makes the event legit, record-breaking, etc.

    - The reporter/interviewer is not their to be your enemy nor your best friend, don't be defensive

    - Stick to the facts and avoid "I feel" "I think" statements if possible... unless of course you just finished your epic 100 hour swim and then you can absolutely say you feel tired (but we will laugh at you anyway).

  • I've done a bit of media training, particularly following an awful encounter with a tabloid newspaper that did something unspeakable with some research I'd published. As @sylmarino says, the key point I took away from the training was to go into the interview with the three things you want to say all lined up and ready to go. And then make sure you keep saying them.

    If you're asked an off-topic question, or one which misunderstands your message, then go back to your key point: "No...the important point here is..." (and try not to say "Yes, but.." - you don't want them just to report the "yes" when you meant "no"). If you are in danger of being misunderstood, pre-empt it: "No - I'm not asking questions because I'm jealous of DN; I'm saying that it's important to have transparency about the facts to avoid any doubt about what's been achieved".

    It's worth having some interesting facts and figures, or a nice example, to illustrate your claim - so rather than just saying that you're raising money for a charity that provides water pumps to places without clean water, say how much it costs to provide one pump and how many people's lives each one changes or how many lives it saves. And have a sound bite ready that you can repeat a few times - most journalists are hopping from topic to topic and learning on the wing, so the more that you can do for them, the better.

    And finally, if a journalist contacts you directly about an issue (and especially a controversial one), ask for as many details as they'll give you and then arrange a later time for an interview. Don't feel pressured to speak to them immediately. This gives you time to check who they are and what their angle might be, as well as to prepare what you want to say.
  • I have some experience on both sides of the microphone, and as such, I think sylmarino and KarenT have laid out some excellent advice here.

    most journalists are hopping from topic to topic and learning on the wing, so the more that you can do for them, the better.

    This is very true. As is the statement that most media are not there to be your enemy. More often than not, a misquote stems from the reporter not fully understanding the subject; despite how it might feel, I don't think it's usually intentional when a story comes out mangled. [Unless, of course, said journalist works for Fox. Then all bets are off.]

    Bottom line during interviews is to stay calm, stick to your guns, be honest and forthcoming, and listen carefully to what the journalist is saying back to you and how they're leading the discussion. If they start going in a direction you don't think is valid, say so. There's no wrong answers during an interview and you can guide the discussion just as much as the reporter can.
    Wanna go for a swim?
    blog.talesofthebeerbaby.com
    athleta.net
  • Press Release: Swimmer uses press release to get people's attention

    10 Sept 2013 | Seattle, WA - One thing I learned back in July was how helpful a proper press release can be. A Seattle Times employee suggested I give it a shot. I figured it was pointless, since I'd already sent out a few "hey I'm doing a cool thing" emails, but lo and behold, after Wikiapedia-ing "press release" and doing eight minutes of work, a small flood of TV and radio producers got back to me. In this case, the press release wasn't published, but still worked beautifully.

    From Wikipedia:

    Some of these common structural elements include:
    Headline — used to grab the attention of journalists and briefly summarize the news.
    Dateline — contains the release date and usually the originating city of the press release. If the date listed is after the date that the information was actually sent to the media, then the sender is requesting a news embargo, which journalists are under no obligation to honor.
    Introduction — first paragraph in a press release, that generally gives basic answers to the questions of who, what, when, where and why.
    Body — further explanation, statistics, background, or other details relevant to the news.
    Boilerplate — generally a short "about" section, providing independent background on the issuing company, organization, or individual.
    Close — in North America, traditionally the symbol "-30-" appears after the boilerplate or body and before the media contact information, indicating to media that the release has ended. A more modern equivalent has been the "###" symbol. In other countries, other means of indicating the end of the release may be used, such as the text "ends".
    Media contact information — name, phone number, email address, mailing address, or other contact information for the PR or other media relations contact person.

    I don't wear a wetsuit; it gives the ocean a sporting chance.
  • Releases generally are not supposed to be published, though some very small papers with little to no staff will. What you're trying to do is grab the attention of a reporter or an assigning editor so they will do their own thing.
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