Donovan Group Resources

Basics of Television Interviewing

Television reporters are often the most difficult members of the media for school and district leaders to respond to and work with. Unlike newspaper and radio reporters, who can do their work over the phone, television reporters need visuals, and therefore have to come to your school or district in person.

Here are a few tips for working with television media outlets.

Before you agree to a television interview, find out from the reporter exactly what they need and what questions they are going to ask you. Do not go on camera without knowing the exact nature of the interview.

When arranging an interview, it’s fair to tell reporters what you are willing to say on camera. For example, you might say, “I am happy to have you interview me but here is all I can say.” That will force them to decide whether the interview is worth their effort.

If it is an interview that you do not want to do because it is for a negative story, do not sit down. I have noticed that seated interviews tend to go on for much longer. If the story is a negative story or the interview is related to a crisis situation, suggest a quick standing interview, ideally near the entrance of a building.

Before any television reporters arrive at your school, tell them where they can and cannot film. Be specific and be firm. When they do arrive, assume that the camera is always running.

Keep in mind that an inexperienced reporter will ask lots of questions, while a more experienced reporter will ask just a few. Good reporters will also put you at ease.

Look at the interviewer, and not the camera. Never look into the lens.

Smile more than you normally would, and speak slowly.

Hold something in your hands. It puts your shoulders at ease. I like holding on to a quarter.

If you have a jacket, wear it.

Stay out of the wind.

The big light on top of the camera is very bright and off-putting. Be prepared.

Make a special point to be nice to the cameraperson. Unlike reporters, who tend to come and go, camerapersons tend to stay with a station for years and years. Be especially kind to them.

Another development to consider is that, increasingly, camerapersons are being sent out alone with a list of questions and no reporter. This is the best of both worlds, because you can answer the questions that are asked and throw in one of your own, by saying something like:

“You know, there’s another question you might consider, which is (ask question). If you were to ask me that I would say…”    

One final tip that is of special importance: most reporters, before the end of the interview, will ask, “Do you have anything else to add?” Use this opportunity to hit any message that you were not able to hit during the interview, or to reinforce your desired message.

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