The guy had every reason to talk to me on TV. He’d lost business because his neighborhood was getting overrun with Falcons fans. The city wasn’t enforcing codes that might have curbed the onslaught. He had plenty of annoyed company. It seemed like a no-brainer to me.
But he wanted nothing to do with my generous offer of a brief on-camera interview. “I see what TV does. You blow things out of proportion. Every time it rains, it’s doomsday. I just don’t want to be a part of that.”
I didn’t argue. He was right. He wouldn’t have been right about my little story. But I couldn’t credibly split that hair with him.
“You’re going to edit this, right?” That question frequently comes at the end of interviews I conduct. The question is asked either hopefully or skeptically. Either way, much of the time, my answer will address the unstated concern: “You better believe I’m going to edit you, and it’ll be completely out of context! You won’t recognize yourself by the time we’re done distorting your remarks.” So far, the line has always gotten a chuckle. It signals my recognition that anybody interviewed wants to be seen saying something contextual. I view this as a moment where I can actually earn a bit of trust. Trust is a rare commodity these days in media relations.
I frequently have to negotiate with potential interview subjects, whose first instinct is to decline but nonetheless stick around long enough to consider the offer.
I used to argue that, by speaking out, the subject can get a problem noticed and perhaps effect desired change. Sometimes that’s really true. But I can’t assure that’s actually the case, so I rarely do it now.
“The good news is that because we’re TV, we can’t really misquote you.” This is literally true, but sidesteps the issues of context and potential distortion — although complaints of “distortion” typically come from interviewees who say something they wish afterward that they hadn’t.
“If it’s good, we’ll use it. If it’s not, we won’t.” I will often say this to fence-sitting potential interviewees, and it frequently puts them at ease and makes them agreeable. The promise is easy to keep. It goes without saying, however, that I’ll be the judge of what’s “good.”
“Trust me.” That’s something I’m pretty sure I’ve never said and never will say. Would you trust a TV reporter who used this line? I immediately becomes suspicious of almost anybody who utters those two words.
We can only make limited assurances about the accuracy and fairness of the stories we’re producing. We have very little control, however, over the drumbeat of promotion and teases. If the TV station overblows content with live team coverage or a succession of follow-ups, then viewers and potential interviewees can get uneasy with our generous offers of TV interviews.
It doesn’t help that there’s too much hamhanded writing and breathless delivery of TV stories, and that reporters are the guilty parties. I’m no exception, especially with an uncomfortably tight deadline.
All that said, here’s the answer to the question: Of course you should talk to me, on camera.
It’s just easier that way. And thanks. It’ll be on at 6.