Nine Questions to Ask Before Every Media Interview

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on September 14, 2011 – 6:26 am

Media trainers usually spend the majority of their time teaching you how to communicate during a media interview. But too often, we forget to talk about what you should do before your interview begins – or before you agree to the interview in the first place.

Before agreeing to an interview, you should interview the interviewer. Learn as much as possible about the story they’re working on, as you’ll be able to prepare for the interview with greater precision as you learn more about it. Most journalists are willing to share at least the basics about the stories they’re working on, and some are willing to go into great detail about their stories.

Here are nine questions you should ask before every interview.

  1. 1. What’s Your Name? I know, that one’s obvious – but I’ve seen people forget to ask. Also ask reporters which news organization they work for and whether they cover a particular topic.
  2. 2. Can You Tell Me About The Story You’re Working On? Keep this question open-ended and remain quiet while the reporter talks (the more they talk, the more you’ll learn). Feel free to ask follow-up questions and to clarify any points you don’t fully understand.
  3. 3. Are You Approaching This Story From Any Particular Perspective? Some reporters bristle when you ask “what’s your angle?” directly, so this question tries to get the same information in a slightly more subtle manner.
  4. 4. Who Else Are You Interviewing? Reporters often play it close to the vest on this one, but it’s worth asking. You’ll often be able to get a sense for the tone of the article by learning whether the other sources in the story are friendly or antagonistic toward your cause.
  5. 5. What’s the Format? For print interviews, this question will help you determine whether reporters just need a quick quote from you or whether they are writing an in-depth piece that will focus extensively on your work. For broadcast interviews, you’ll be able to learn whether the interview will be live, live-to-tape, or edited. Also ask how long the interview will last. For television, ask if the format will be a remote, on-set, or sound bites interview.
  6. 6. With Whom Would You Like to Speak? Reporters will often tell you who they want to speak to – often a company leader or subject-matter expert. But they’ll frequently take anyone in your organization who can answer their questions satisfactorily, so ask.
  7. 7. Is There Anything Else I Can Help You With? Ask the reporter if you can provide them with any press releases, graphics, photos, videos, etc. You can often expand your presence in a news story if the reporter chooses to use your supporting materials.
  8. 8. Who Will Be Doing the Interview? For many radio and television interviews, you will be contacted by an off-air producer rather than an on-air personality. If you’re not sure who the interviewer will be, ask. Also ask where the interview will be held.
  9. 9. When Are You Publishing or Airing the Story? Look at the story as soon as it comes out. If it’s a positive story, share it with your online and off-line networks. If it’s a negative story, consider contacting the reporter or editor, or issuing a response.

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Related: Nine Things New Spokespersons Need To Know

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  • About Mr. Media Training

    The Mr. Media Training Blog offers daily tips to help readers become better media spokespersons and public speakers. It also examines how well (or poorly) public figures are communicating through the media.

    Brad Phillips is the Founder and Managing Editor of the Mr. Media Training Blog. He is the president of Phillips Media Relations, a media and presentation training firm with offices in NYC and DC.

    Brad Phillips

    Before founding Phillips Media Relations in 2004, Brad worked as a journalist with ABC's Nightline with Ted Koppel and CNN's Reliable Sources and The Capital Gang.

    Brad tweets at @MrMediaTraining.

    Christina Mozaffari is the Senior Writer for the Mr. Media Training Blog. She is the Washington, D.C. vice president for Phillips Media Relations.

    Brad Phillips

    Before joining Phillips Media Relations in 2011, Christina worked as a journalist with NBC News, where she produced stories for MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, NBC Nightly News, and The Today Show.

    Christina tweets at @PMRChristina.

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