An interview is a conversation consisting of questions and answers about a specific topic. In the case of a media interview, the interviewer — a reporter — asks questions and the interviewee — a source — provides answers, right? Yes, but it’s not always that cut and dried.
There are actually six basic kinds of media interviews. The art of an excellent interview involves understanding those kinds of interviews and making sure you’re well-prepared for each scenario.
While the standard interviewing rules will always apply, be sure you know exactly which type of interview the reporter seeks. Expectations are everything. Is your upcoming session a …
Reporters are interested in off-the-record interviews when they are doing initial groundwork for a potential story but don’t yet have enough material to move on. While off-the-record is intended to create a safe zone in conversation (and the majority of reporters truly honor this agreement, by either keeping quiet or anonymizing your comments), you still should never say anything you don’t want to see published. Keep in mind that the reporter has a job to do, so tailor your responses accordingly.
On-the-record interviews are the most straightforward. They involve questions the reporter seeks answers to, typically for a specific story, and are pretty much a sure bet for being quoted and visible. Sometimes a reporter will provide a list of questions in advance, but this is not a guarantee or requirement. Either way, prepare your talking points and stick to them throughout your conversation. If a question comes up that you don’t have an answer to or don’t want to speak to, it’s fine to say that directly to the reporter.
Email interviews are actually quite ideal. They involve exchanging questions and answers solely through email communication, so there’s little margin for error and you can control your message completely. Sometimes a reporter will request a phone call to clarify any points in an email response, but it’s generally straightforward and to the point.
There may be pros and cons to each interview type, and sometimes an interview will actually be a combination of the above. When you clarify details with the reporter before the interview, you are setting yourself up for success. (And few things feel better than nailing an interview with a target media outlet
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