IN PERSON INTERVIEWS
Many times the print media will do an "in person" interview. It can be about an incident on scene, or they are doing an in-depth story about a fire service issue. In every case you should assume a pocket recorder is recording the conversation.
Many times if the issue is very sensitive and you believe there may be some fallout after the interview, other personnel should be present during the interview. Many times if the interview is extremely sensitive the fire chief will handle the interview, but I am usually present. By having someone with you or you are acting as the PIO and assisting department personnel with being interviewed, you have a backup in case an issue arises. And in some cases YOU might want to record the interview yourself. A few times in my career this saved my job. What I said and what was printed were not accurate and because I had another person from the department present, they were able to back me up and confirm the article was not correct.
INTERVIEWS AT EMERGENCY SCENES
Many times PIOs will have to do interviews while at the scene of an incident. Here are some ideas to make it easier.
First establish a media area so all of the media is together and you can do your interviews all at the same time.
When you first get them together, give them a little tease to keep them interested. Use some of the information you gathered while enroute to the scene and then advise them you will meet with the Incident Commander to get an update and more information. Tell them you will return to the same spot in a few minutes.
After you have gathered your information and are ready to make a statement, go back to your established media area and inform the media you are ready to make a statement. This gives them a chance to get their equipment ready. At this time they will "mic you up," set up cameras, audio recorders and the like. Sometimes they will ask you to hold up something white so they can adjust their cameras. This is called a "white balance." This is usually done just before the interview is about to start. If you use your notebook, make sure there isn't anything on the page you don't want repeated.
When it seems everyone is ready, ask to make sure. Your first comment should be you telling them your name and spell it slowly and then follow it with your title and the department you represent. This is valuable information for the editors who have to add the graphics.
Give an overview of the incident, making sure that you cover all the questions of: who, what, when, where, why and how.
After you are done giving the information, is when questions will probably follow. Remember to look at the reporters while doing the interview. And if there are several reporters on scene, make sure you look at everyone during the interview.
After the questions are done, you may be asked to do a solo interview for a station. If you do it for one station, make sure you are available for everyone else also. Never do exclusives.
NOTHING IS EVER "OFF THE RECORD"
No matter how long or how good you know someone in the media, you should NEVER converse anything you would not want repeated or printed. There is absolutely no such thing as "off the record." NEVER release information "anomalously" to the media. Somewhere along the line it can be traced back to you and if it is matter of that person saving their job, they will sell you out in a minute. This is a loser and could cost you your job.
BEING A GUEST ON A TV OR RADIO SHOW
Sometimes you may be asked to be a guest on a TV or radio show. This is a different type of an interview, which involves planning. Here are some hints:
If you are asked to be on the show, there must be a specific reason why you were asked. Make sure you know what the subject is so you can research it. It may be about fire safety, fire recruitment or it could be a controversial subject such as closing fire stations or budget cuts. In any event, do your homework and research your subject. You should ask if you could offer questions for the host to ask. Many times they will take you up on it, which is an advantage for you, you will already know the questions. If asked to make up questions, they will probably ask you to fax or e-mail them in ahead of time so they can review them. If asked to make up the questions, make sure you create ones that will help deliver your message.