Inside the Media
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Below are excerpts from the Broadcast Interviews chapter of
Winning with the News Media
Copyright © 2005, 2001, 1999, 1996
By Clarence Jones
Listening to one end of a telephone conversation, you can usually tell who’s on the other end. If it’s long distance, most people tend to talk louder. Subconsciously, they think they have to speak up to be heard clearly a thousand miles away. We slow down if we sense that the person at the other end of the line is old, or has a foreign accent. We change the tone of our voice if we’re talking to a child, or a lover. The same kind of subtle changes take place when people talk in front of cameras and microphones.
An Audience of One or Two
If they know they’re being taped, many people reflexively talk as if they’re making a speech at a civic club. There may be half a million people — perhaps more — out there listening. With a crowd that large, you want to make sure the people in the back row hear what you have to say.
But they’re not all in one, humongous auditorium.
The broadcast audience is one or two people. It is Joe Six-pack and Aunt Millie, sitting in the living room or kitchen, six or eight feet from the TV set. The radio listener is even closer. Probably in a car. One of the secrets of broadcast interviews is to keep that audience in mind.
Radio and television are very intimate. The zoom lens on a camera invades your zone of privacy, moving even closer than a person would, to focus on a drop of sweat, the flared nostrils, the gritted teeth. Radio’s microphone puts the person speaking at our shoulder. Sometimes, it whispers in our ear. In the best radio and TV interviews, the people talking seem unaware that we are eavesdropping.
Think of the Living Room
To prepare for a radio or TV interview, change your mind-set so you’re talking to that small, intimate audience. It may help you to think of a real living room, and real people. In your mind, think of the reporter as someone else, and that may help. Your spouse, a neighbor, the cashier at the restaurant where you have lunch, the bartender who knows you well enough that you no longer have to order.
Changing your mind-set will change your body language. In the noise and confusion of a political rally, a candidate holds up his arms and flashes a big grin to communicate warmth and charm as he tries to woo the crowd. He uses a very different kind of smile and body language if he’s trying to seduce a beautiful woman sitting across the table in a quiet restaurant.
If you think of the large broadcast audience, you will instinctively project your voice to reach them. You don’t need to do that. But it takes a lot of practice to squelch that natural inclination. Today’s microphones are so sensitive they can pick up a whisper across a room.
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The camera detects phonies. Bring to the conversation the real person inside you, not a front. Let your emotions show, if they’re real. You can be angry, or sad, pleased with yourself or your organization, shocked or dismayed at what you’ve just learned.
The radio or TV reporter does not want many facts or figures when you are being taped.
There is not enough time. You probably don’t have the skill to boil down the facts extemporaneously. Even experienced reporters have trouble doing that. To condense them to 20 or 30 seconds may require a half-hour at the keyboard, eliminating a word, rewriting a phrase to save another three or four seconds.
A famous quote, attributed to several people: "I’m writing you a long letter because I didn’t have time to write a short one."
The Sony Sandwich
If your interview is taped in the field, it is probably going to be the meat in a Sony Sandwich. What you say in the story — the "sound bite" — will be sandwiched between a reporter’s introduction and the reporter’s summary or conclusion.
The purpose of the interview is to add the personal, human perspective. In virtually every interview, the reporter at some point will ask you how you feel about the issue or event. The trite "How do you feel?" question is used to get to: What is your reaction? How you are coping?
The Story Comes Alive
Let’s diagram the Sony Sandwich. The beginning of the Sony Sandwich is the bottom half of the bun. The reporter quickly sketches the scenario. It is like a line drawing, stark and two-dimensional. When I lecture, I tell my audience the story, at this point, is like a stick drawing of a human figure. We cannot tell whether the person is old or young, tall or short, happy or sad, proud or afraid.
The meat of the sandwich — the interview — gives the stick figure warmth and personality, emotion and flavor, color and dimension. The story comes alive.
The reporter may edit a series of interviews together — different people giving their reactions to, or perspectives on, the same incident. Or the interviews may pit one point of view against another.
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Doctors, lawyers, scientists and accountants are often terrible on camera. They speak their own, professional jargon, as though we, too, had Ph.Ds in their specialty.
They provide dry, lengthy, logical, step-by-step reasoning, with lots of footnotes. The subject matter is complicated. The simplest question takes three minutes to answer.
This kind of interview is a horror to edit. The people interviewed call the next day to complain that they were quoted out of context.
On-camera, police and military officers often become voice synthesizers spouting official reports.
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Survey after survey has shown that stage fright is America’s biggest fear. Bigger than war, cancer, divorce, dying in a plane crash. What are we so afraid of onstage?
I think we’re afraid of looking stupid.
People in front of a camera often talk non-conversation because they’re afraid they’ll make a mistake and look dumb. They’re not sure the boss will like the idea of their talking to a TV reporter. So they cram and memorize, to avoid mistakes. They want to be walking encyclopedias. Instead, they look like stupid drones. The one thing they most fear.
Other people deal with the stress by drawing themselves into tight little knots, making their voices small and flat, and saying every word very carefully. They pause a lot. On TV or radio, they are deadly. More than five seconds, and everybody in the audience will be snoring.
What Does It All Mean?
The closing section of the Sony Sandwich is also formularized. The reporter sums up the story. Tells us what to expect next. Here’s the form:
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My FACE Formula
I invented the FACE Formula to help you remember what kind of quotes the reporter is looking for. If you’re the subject of the interview, we’re going to see your face on TV, and probably your picture in the newspaper. In radio, we’ll imagine what you look like. Keep these factors in mind:
Reporters are going to ask you about the facts, but the facts will usually not appear in quotes. What appears in quotes in newspapers — and what we hear you say in radio and TV — will almost always be your response to "How do you feel about … ?"
In a few stories, your analysis of something will appear in quotes or the sound bite.
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