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How to Keep Cool When Interviews Heat Up


May 1, 2014

By Mark Bernheimer

Reporters can be infuriating.

They push, pursue, prod and probe. At least the good ones do.

Anyone with any real media experience has likely been close to snapping at a reporter at one point or another. So what stops them?

It may be good manners, common sense or uncommon patience.

Or maybe it’s that instinct reminding them that lashing out at a reporter only elevates the story. Sometimes it creates a whole new one.

Pop culture is replete with cautionary tales. As examples, take a look at Alec Baldwin, Ted Nugent, Dennis Rodman and Alex Jones. A YouTube search will produce scores of politicians, athletes and coaches shouting down reporters and stomping out of news conferences.

The one thing that they have in common is the failure to recognize that blowing up during an interview almost always defeats one’s messaging objectives. Or, equally likely, in the heat of the moment, they simply don’t care.

If their intention is to somehow punish the reporter, then they should consider that the opposite is true. In fact, if you ever want to make a reporter really happy, then just get mad. Few things make a news story more interesting than the spectacle of an interviewee losing his cool.

Journalism (and journalists) feed on emotion. It doesn’t matter if it’s a soldier’s joyful homecoming, a natural disaster’s aftermath or a congressman threatening to throw a reporter off a balcony. Emotion is universal, and a story with enough of it tends to write itself. 

Sometimes anger is a perfectly appropriate part of your story. Any reasonable person would understand the fury of the families whose loved ones disappeared on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, for example. It is when the anger is directed at the reporter that it becomes distracting and counterproductive.

Use these tips to help keep calm:

Choose your interviews carefully.

Some interviewers have a well-established, provocative style. PR pros tend to know who they are. But this breed of journalist is proliferating quickly, particularly on cable TV. Do your research before granting an interview with an unknown reporter, host or blogger. It’s easier to avoid hostile interviews than to salvage them once they have begun.

Remember that you’re on the record.

Who among us hasn’t lost his temper with a fellow driver, a customer service representative or a child who tested our patience?

Fortunately, those moments of weakness typically aren’t captured on video and permanently archived in cyberspace. But a news interview is forever. If you let a reporter get the better of you, then it may become your Google legacy.

Push back gently.

If you must defend yourself against an interviewer who has become particularly aggressive or argumentative, then word choice matters. Consider language such as, “I’d love to respond to your question but I feel as though I’m not being allowed to finish my sentences.” Ending an interview prematurely is always the nuclear option.


Mark Bernheimer is a former CNN national correspondent, and the founder of MediaWorks Resource Group, an international media training and consulting firm.

 



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