PIO Interviews - Part I

Setting the stage

One of the most important functions of a Public Information Officer is to give interviews. But ALL personnel of the department should be aware of how to give interviews. Sometimes the media will want to interview the person that performed the actual rescue or want to ask what it is really like to be a firefighter. Although PIOs are usually the primary contact and conduct the most interviews, it is to the advantage of the department to use other personnel if they are available for special occasions. What now becomes the PIOs most important function is to pick the right person to do that interview and assist them to ensure the interview is done correctly.

TYPES OF INTERVIEWS

  • Video - Taped
  • Video - Live
  • Audio - Taped
  • Audio - Live
  • Telephone Interviews
  • In Person - Face to Face
  • Press Conference
  • E-Mail - Internet
  • Written Correspondence

Live interviews are probably the most difficult; there is no room for error. You have less time to prepare yourself and research your subject. Taped interviews can be taped over and over again until it is done right, so if you sneeze during your interview, you can fix it. With a live interview you can't.

Regardless of the type of interview, you should always ASSUME you are being taped. Even when a reporter does a face-to-face interview writing their notes in a notebook, you should still be under the assumption that some type of recording device is being used to record the conversation. This is almost always true during a telephone interview.

INTERVIEW REQUESTS

Most of the time the media will ask in advance if they can conduct an interview. If you are called on the telephone, once again assume your conversation is being recorded.

When they call to set up the interview, you should ask questions such as:

  • What specific information do you need?
  • How long will the interview take in time?
  • Where do you want to do the interview?
  • Ask them who will be conducting the interview?

Now that you have some specific information, you can set up for the interview.

First by asking them what they need to know or are requesting, you can now research the subject. It maybe something as simple as the details of a recent incident or it may be more complex like dealing with a personnel matter or budget request. Make sure you know all the questions the reporter is going to ask:

  • WHO
  • WHAT
  • WHEN
  • WHERE
  • WHY
  • HOW

Where you conduct the interview is real important. Sometimes a neutral setting is best. If you had a rough incident where something didn't work out right, such as a hydrant didn't work, you don't want to do your interview in front of the building that burned down. Many times you can suggest doing the interview in front of or the side of one your apparatus. It is visual and neutral. Never give interviews from your office. Reporters while in your office can scan around looking for other details on your desk, conference table, or on a board. Conference rooms are my preference if it has to be done indoors. If you don't have a conference room, any other room such as a training room or hallway can do.

Knowing who is conducting the interview also gives you some insight as to what direction the story is going. The PIO should know the reporters in their area and their demeanor. If you find out that one of the investigative reporters is going to do the interview, red flags should go up. If it is a general assignment reporter, it may not be as rough.

REPORTER'S RESPONSIBILITIES

When setting up an interview, reporters have a few responsibilities themselves. They include:

IDENTIFYING THEMSELVES and the organization they represent.

STATING THE PURPOSE of the interview, what is it all about? They should give you some idea of what the interview is all about so you can do your research. There is no problem asking what specific questions they are going to ask in advance of the interview.

ASKING FOR A SPECIFIC TIME AND PLACE for the interview and they should tell you about how long it will take for the interview.

ASKING YOU IF WOUNDN'T MIND ANSWERING A FEW QUESTIONS - This is the Miranda warning for reporters. After you agree, that means they can use anything you say from that point on until they leave the scene, not just during the interview.

NOT STANDING YOU UP - If the media requests to do an interview, they are supposed to honor that request. Rarely, but on occasion, you will be stood up. Sometimes while they are enroute to do the interview a breaking story occurs and they are detoured by the news director to cover the breaking event. They should at least call and tell you what happened. It doesn't happen very often, if it does; do not let it upset you.

THE MEDIA IS NOT OBLIGATED TO USE YOUR INTERVIEW - Sometimes you will do an interview and then they do not use it. Many reasons can occur why it was not used and it is not a good practice to call ask why it wasn't used. Sometimes the interview is used for gathering information and they only use the interview to write the story.

YOU SHOULD NEVER ASK IF YOU CAN SEE OR READ A STORY BEFORE IT RELEASED BY THE MEDIA. They are not obligated to do so and they will be strongly offended if you ask.

Before you agree to do an interview, make sure it is approved by your superiors and you are able to do the interview. If you are not sure, tell them you will call them back and let them know. Once you agree to do an interview, follow through. DO NOT CANCEL an interview, if you do it appears you are hiding something and they will never leave you alone.

MAKE SURE YOU CAN AND ARE WILLING TO DO IT BEFORE AGREEING

I next's month's article we will continue to exam the process of interviews, going into more depth on interview tips and determing who should be selected to represent your department.

If you have any questions or comments, please call me at 702-229-0145 or e-mail me at tszymanski@ci.las-vegas.nv.us.

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