2013 and 2014 GOLDEN HEART® Finalist

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Media Moment- A Horror Story and a Happy Ending

Oh no! What did I say?
I started my career as a news anchor and reporter three weeks after graduation, making twelve thousand dollars a year. How glamorous!   Because I didn't want to spend my entire life living in a one room apartment eating mac n cheese for every meal, I moved every few years, making my way up the TV news career ladder to bigger television markets where the pay got better, the studios and equipment got fancier, and the work got more and more challenging.  (Also along the way... my hair and makeup dramatically improved.   :)

Whenever I left a job and started a new one, I usually found myself giving an interview about it to a local newspaper, magazine, radio station or cable show.  So if you're on the verge of doing publicity for your book, I feel your pain.  I completely understand any trepidation you may feel about interviews.  When I was the "interview-ee" I knew it was a necessary part of the job-- and I found it terrifying.  You're never really quite sure what they're going to ask you or what angle the "interviewer" is going to take.  For instance, I once had a morning DJ ask me live on the air how many men I'd seen naked.  Okay...

Keep It Positive

No matter WHAT they might ask you, your job is to keep it positive.  You're there to make people aware of your book (or other project).  You have a main message you want to get across-- most likely it's what your book's about and the audience to whom it's targeted.  The more interesting you make it sound, the more likely readers and listeners and viewers are to buy your book.  And it certainly won't hurt your sales if the audience finds you likable.  That happens when you keep it positive.  No matter what.  You're not angry or flustered by silly DJ's and questions about nudity-- you're on a mission to promote your book, and nothing can stop you!

You might wonder why on earth I'd even bother to point this out, thinking "Of course I'm not going to go in there and gripe about my lousy day or the publishing industry or how I don't really like my book cover or how long it took to get an agent or criticize other authors or my genre."  Because you don't intend to say any of those negative things, and good for you.  But you might anyway.

It Can Happen

It happened to me.  Early in my career, when I was 24 years old and leaving my second anchoring job in Tennessee for a new one in California, I was asked by the local newspaper to do an interview.  The reporter was a guy I'd seen around town frequently on the job and also at social events such as outdoor concerts, etc.  I believed him to be a friend.  He proved he was not.

During the phone interview, he asked questions about my new job, how I felt about leaving my current station -- all the usual stuff.  I told him honestly that I loved the station and my co-workers there and had been very happy.  He apparently wasn't satisfied.  He kept coming around again and again to questions about the state the of news business. He asked me things like "What should be changed?"  "What's wrong with tv news?".  Knowing I was far from the expert on these topics, and being happy as a clam with the news business, I kept replying that basically I didn't know the answers to those questions or really have anything to say about them.  He kept at it.

Because I was young, eager to please, and had been trained my whole life in Southern politeness, I didn't cut him off and hang up.  I wish I had.  He kept pushing and finally asked something to the effect of: If you HAD to change any one thing about news coverage in general, what would it be?  I finally replied that if I HAD to pick one thing, I guessed it would be that we could do more in-depth stories on issues that we usually didn't have time for, because of all the regular news coverage we were doing.  I think I called it "issue reporting".

Well, he finally had the answer he was looking for, and here's what he did with it: made me look like an ungrateful, know-it-all complainer.  That one little half-hearted answer that he bullied out of me was the focus of his whole story, though we had spoken for about 30-40 minutes on the phone.  He even took a sentence I'd spoken at the beginning of the interview and pasted it together with a sentence I'd said at the end, to make it look like it was all one thought.  I was horrified, devastated, and ashamed to even show my face to my co-workers in the newsroom the next day.  And yes, they looked at me like the back-stabber they believed me to be.  I still shudder when I think about it.

Yes, that was a horror story, and yes, it can happen, but don't let it stop you from doing interviews. Let it prepare you.  They're not all like that-- I had many good experiences.  Any interview is a great chance to get free publicity, and you should by all means seek them out and do them-- just be prepared.  Know the message you want to get across and be in control of it.  Be intentionally  positive.  Don't give an interviewer the chance that I gave that newspaper "friend" of mine to twist your words.

Don't Go There

If an interviewer tries to turn your interview in a negative direction, just don't go there.  You can even respond to an asinine question with something like: "I really have no idea, but let me tell you what I'm excited about...."  and take it off in your own direction. 

You often see professional athletes do this to perfection when they're invited to criticize a teammate about an on-field mistake.  They'll respond to the negative question with something positive like, "We're all professionals trying our best out here, and I'm just glad to be part of the team."  Bland, but effective at shutting down the potential negative flow of the interview.  When an interviewer senses that you can't be led in a negative direction and you're simply not going to "go there", they'll usually back off.

I've always regretted that I was too naive to understand what was happening to me during that long- ago interview, or how to prevent it.  But I sure learned-- the hard way.  Now you don't have to. :)  Good luck, and keep writing!

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