Pete Burdon is managing director of Media Training NZ, a company specialising in training business people and niche groups how to communicate with the media. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or viawww.mediatrainingnz.co.nz
Many business leaders get into trouble in media interviews because they assume they are like any other conversation. Often these people are great communicators and competent speakers, but they are unaware that media interviews require an entirely new set of skills.
How many times have you heard someone complain of being taken out of context? Most of the time, this happens because they don’t understand the important distinction between media interviews and other conversations.
Apart from live television and radio interviews, every time you speak to a journalist, you risk being taken out of context. This is just the nature of journalism.
It’s because a journalist will only use snippets of the interview in their subsequent story. They don’t have the space for more. You may speak for 30 minutes and only 30 seconds of your conversation may be used.
This is totally different to giving a speech. Here you can build one idea on another, referencing something you said earlier to highlight a point. People in the audience get to hear the whole speech, so you can do this.
You don’t have that luxury when you are talking to the media. You never know what parts of your interview will be used. That means everything you say must make sense on its own and not be reliant on things you say before or after each point you make.
For example, in a real life conversation, if someone said to me, “How does it feel to teach people how to lie to the media,” it would be fine for me to say, “I don’t teach people how to lie to. I train them to communicate the great things they are doing through the media”.
The problem with this response in a media context is that the journalist may take the first part of that answer alone, so the story could focus entirely on, “Media trainer denies teaching people how to lie,” and not use the rest of my answer. This makes for a negative denial story and implies some shadiness on my part.
Not every journalist will do this, but some will and it’s best not to give them the chance. Without the control of context, I would be better to answer with a positive statement like, “I’m proud that I train people to communicate the great things they are doing through the media.” You can see how I answered the question, but gave it a positive twist so it could not be taken out of context.
The most famous example of this was Richard Nixon when giving his speech during Watergate. He explained how he had never profited from the Presidency and he had earned every cent. This was followed by the words, “I’m not a crook”. I don’t need to tell you which part of that speech was used by the media.
In a nutshell, if you don’t want it used, not say it in any context.