Making A Difference
Working with Broadcast MediaTV or Radio
Broadcast media, particularly television, have grown in influence
among most Americans. In the United States today, more than 98 percent
of all homes have television sets. Ideas, information and opinions are
transferred through these sets to millions of viewers by more than 1,400
commercial stations and more than 9,900 cable systems, each with 20 stations
or more. Additionally, more than 9,220 AM and commercial FM stations transmit
programs to more than 533 million radios.
A total of 56 percent of Americans say local TV news is extremely important
to them and 50 percent say the nightly network news is extremely or very
Television and radio allow your audience to see and/or hear you directly.
Not only are the facts of your message delivered, but you also have the
opportunity to establish credibility with gestures, intonation, delivery,
speed and appearance. If not taken into consideration and utilized properly,
these audio and visual effects can weaken your message.
First and foremost, before any broadcast interview, you should watch
or listen to the show. A professional athlete would never dream of playing
an opponent without seeing him in action to analyze his style. A physician
would not dream of performing a procedure without analyzing the particular
patients' situation. It makes sense to watch or listen to the show and
see or hear your interviewer in action before you are interviewed.
Types of Programs
Different types of programs offer various lengths of air time. For
instance, if you are interviewed on a news program, your comments
will probably be limited to 30 seconds or perhaps one minute. A radio
call-in program may last for a full hour with interviews and audience
phone calls. Guests on television and radio talk shows may appear
from five minutes to 15 minutes or a full hour, depending on the format
and the number of other guests.
The actual length of your interview also will vary according to how the
show is produced C live, taped or taped live. It is important to have
an idea of approximately how long your "on-the-air" interview will be.
Interviews for news broadcasts
require planning. News show interviews are generally brief and to the
point. For this reason, you will want to get your main messages across
to the news audience in a minimum of well-chosen words.
Anticipate questions you may be asked and picture your reply in the form
of a newspaper headline. Try to completely answer a question in no more
than 10 to 15 seconds.
Each reply should be a self-contained message, independent of any prior
statement or any comment that may follow. If your interview is being broadcast
live, the self-contained message approach will work very well for
you. If the interview is taped, the context of your message will
not be lost when the tape is cut and edited.
A live news interview rarely lasts longer than one or two minutes
and the reporter will be looking for one or two quotes that are memorable,
concise and interesting to the viewing or listening audience. In a live
interview, the viewing or listening audience sees or hears the broadcast
exactly as it takes place. For that reason, a live broadcast allows no
margin for error.
A taped interview may
run as long as 10 or 15 minutes, even though the actual broadcast time
may be the same as for a live interview. This means that as much as 80
percent of what you say will never reach the audience because it will
be edited out.
Consequently, your individual comments and delivery should carry maximum
impact. Again, the reporter will look for the best quote that delivers
a memorable, concise and interesting message to the audience.
Taped Live Interviews
When an interview is taped live, a tape is being made for editing
while you are being interviewed live. Portions of the interview may be
rebroadcast at a later time or date. A live interview of two-minute duration
that is broadcast on the 6 p.m. news may have a 30-second question and
answer segment rebroadcast on the 11 p.m. news.
Television stations sometimes prefer to tape interviews on location
rather than in a studio setting. Stations usually have a mini-camera as
part of their standard broadcasting equipment. Rather than have this expensive
piece of equipment stand idle in the studio, an enterprising producer
may decide to use it for an on-location interview to add to the presentation.
Some of the visuals that work well are scenes of people using the computer
to visit sites such as PUBMED or MEDLINE. Shots of a medical librarian
typing on a computer keyboard or consulting with a library patron are
good visuals since they clearly show medical librarians at work. Be sure
to receive approval from any library patrons who may be seen on camera
before you allow any filming.
There are only a few preparation details to worry about for an on-location
interview. Producers may want to walk through the setting in advance or
they may just appear at the appointed time with crew and dollies of equipment.
Although the approach may seem casual, produces know their business and
will not risk wasting expensive time and equipment by not being prepared.
Although the mini-camera is not a large piece of machinery, sound equipment
and lights are sometimes also needed.
You can expect an interviewer, a camera operator and, probably, a crew
member for lighting and sound. A producer may accompany the "talent" or
on-air person, and "crew" when a longer piece is being produced.
Don't be surprised, however, if only one person shows up to run the camera,
ask the questions and do whatever else needs to be done. Many stations
have very tight budgets and run on skeleton staff.
The "Nightline"/Remote Camera Format
you've watched Ted Koppel on "Nightline" or Larry King on CNN, you've
probably seen segments where Koppel or King are in their studios interviewing
people who are in other parts of the country, viewed on a monitor.
The "Nightline" or remote camera format is one of the most difficult
for spokespersons to deal with. Situations differ, but most often, the
person being interviewed is alone in a studiooften a dark studiowith
nothing other than a chair, perhaps a table, a television monitor and
It is not unusual for the camera to be aimed at the person's head and
locked into position so it cannot move and so a camera operator is not
necessary. The spokesperson hears the questions and conversations through
an earpiece. The monitor in the studio often shows the picture of the
spokesperson, whether the person is on the air or not.
Spokespersons report feeling isolated and disconcerted by this setting.
Because you're alone and very often cannot see the other speakers, you
feel as though you have no control over the situation, no opportunity
to interact or to draw attention to the fact that you'd like to speak.
There are a number of steps you can take to be successful. As with any
interview, prepare for the remote camera interview with these important
- Decide your message. Know what you are going to say and summarize
it in a brief sentence that you can say again and again throughout the
- Prove your message. Your message is only your opinion until you prove
your point with facts, statistics and other information that backs up
what you have to say.
- Use examples. Your message will be more meaningful and memorable to
your audience if you use one or more examples that illustrate your point.
- Remember these remote interview tips. Don't expect to say very much.
Very often, remote interview shows pit a person with one point of view
against another person with another point of view. The idea is to give
viewers various points of view and let them decide the matter. The format
is more informational than many others in the broadcast media, but you
still are confined by the medium to tackle complex subjects in a very
short period of time.
Focus your comments around your single primary message rather than loading
in a lot of information. Repeat your main message several times. Keep
your sentences short. Use as many memorable examples as possible to
illustrate your message. It will be the examples that the audience remembers.
Don't expect to win the debate. If you go in determined to win,
you will probably lose. Audiences root for the little guy, the underdog,
the person who is polite and reasonable. Think of this as an opportunity
to voice a point of view not as a war to be won.
Take the side of the consumer. Remember who your audience is:
Mr. and Mrs. Average America. Not your colleagues. Not your boss. Not
your peers. The journalist who is interviewing you acts as the advocate
for the consumer and you should too. It should be your goal to show
how your point of view affects the people in the audience.
Don't make enemies of other guests. You lose credibility when
you are hostile towards other guests or when you become defensive responding
to their statements. Take the high road. Acknowledge their point of
view without agreeing to it. Use such phrases as, "I hear what you're
saying," or "I understand your point." Be friendly. Be thoughtful. And
also remember, once you are off the air, you may have to deal with these
Television and radio shows
that feature five-minute to hour-long interview opportunities have proliferated
in recent years. On television there are the morning talk shows, Good
Morning America, CBS This Morning, Today and dozens of local,
regional and cable offerings; Oprah and Leeza and their
many imitators; and a considerable range of daytime and weekend shows
that include host/guest interviews.
Radio has similar counterparts and adds a conglomeration of talk shows
devoted to being outrageous, outlandish, controversial or amusing enough
to attract a participatory listening audience.
The caveat for spokespersons is: know the show. We can't emphasize often
enough the importance of watching or listening to a show before you appear.
Telephone Call-in Shows
on many radio shows and some television shows involves telephone call-in
questions. As a medical librarian, you are likely to find that people
want you to give medical advice, and you will need to remind them that,
while you can direct them to good medical information, they still need
to see a physician for a medical diagnosis.
Before you arrive at the station, you should think about the kind of
issues you might be asked to address and actually practice what you might
say if you are asked those questions you wish you could avoid. A few tips
will help this kind of broadcast to run smoothly:
- Do not be uneasy at the prospect of handling "crank" or "crack-pot"
calls. There is usually a time lapse between the caller's comments
and the broadcast of these comments to the listening audience. This
allows the engineer to "edit" what is broadcast, and any obscene commentary
is cut out.
- Always be "on your toes." It is often difficult to determine
whether callers have finished their questions or commentaries, or if
they are simply pausing and intend to continue. You must not allow too
much time to lapse before answering, but neither should you be hasty
and possibly interrupt a question or thought.
- Do not let the caller "bully" you. Nor should you allow yourself
to be baited into inadvertently criticizing a person or concept. Given
the anonymity in which people can express themselves on call-in shows,
callers can become overly aggressive.
- Always keep your emotions in check. Many callers thrive on
upsetting the guest on call-in shows. If moderators are on their toes,
they will not allow the situation to get too out of hand. They will
allow a degree of controversy, however, since a spirited exchange keeps
the audience tuning in. If you feel your composure beginning to slip,
however, suggest to the moderators that they move on.
- Handling personal attacks and caller complaints. It is not
uncommon for a caller to express a personal complaint about you or your
organization. Your goal should be to show the caller and your
host and audience that you take all complaints seriously, and
to move on to the next caller. Try this five-step process to achieve
- Validate the caller's concern. People with a complaint want to
be reassured that they are being taken seriously that they
have been heard. Hear out the caller and respond with a "validating
statement" such as, "I hear you and I want you to know I take
your concern very seriously."
- Separate your profession from the complaint. Impress upon the
caller and the audience that the complaint does not reflect the
way a professional medical librarian "does business." Continue with
a reassurance, such as, "This is certainly not the way we want
medical librarians to be regarded we really care about
- Get the caller off the phone by moving the discussion to another
time. You want to keep the call as short as possible. Make the offer
to handle the complaint personally by suggesting the caller
get in touch with you the next day.
- Reinforce your sincerity with statements like, "I will tell
my assistant to let me know immediately when you call so I can discuss
this with you in detail and we can resolve this problem."
- Reinforce your profession's good reputation. Close by stating
your organization's philosophy: "The Medical Library Association
is the oldest and largest organization representing the medical
librarian profession. We are professionals who are committed to
providing individuals with accurate and reliable health care information
in the most understandable format available."
Controversial and unrelated subjects. Controversial subjects may
come up during some interviews, and questions from the media regarding
controversies cannot be ignored. The best means of dealing with them is
to provide a brief, responsive answer and then lead the interviewer to
a more appropriate area of discussion.
Because you are an expert, the media will expect you to have knowledge
and opinions on all health care specialties and controversies. If an interviewer
strays from your area of knowledge, it is important for you to define
for the interviewer the boundaries of your expertise. Often, an inappropriate
question can be turned around and used as a platform for a discussion
that includes your communications objective.
For example, a medical librarian was appearing on a radio call-in show
to discuss ethics. A listener called in and demanded to know his personal
views on keeping medical records private. Rather than respond directly
to the caller's question, the medical librarian bridged back to her original
topic by saying, "My personal views on this sensitive issue would really
contribute nothing to this discussion. However, professional standards
and certified training programs for medical librarians are key issues
that the Medical Library Association deals with on a daily basis. As members
of MLA, my colleagues and I...."
She continued by giving examples of how MLA and local members
had contributed to upgrading the image and standards for transmission
of medical information and illustrated by giving examples of situations
that actually occurred.
Bridging words and phrases such as "however," "and," "but," etc. will
take you from one topic to the next.
NOTE: It is important that you not play "politician" and ignore the
question entirely. Make it clear that you heard the question, address
it briefly and bridge to where you want to go.
Tips and Tactics
Broadcast reporters look for a different angle than print reporters
because they must be concerned with what their viewers see and/or hear
for television and radio. They also are looking for ways to tell the story
quickly and concisely. If they interview someone on the air, they are
looking for "sound bites," short, memorable and interesting comments that
bring a story to life, to put on the air.
For examples of television sound bites, watch your local news and notice
how long a spokesperson is on camera and what is said on the air. Keeping
sight and sound in mind, here are some tips to follow when you are being
interviewed by the broadcast media:
- Prepare in advance two or three points (specific communications objectives)
you want to get across to your audience.
- Whenever possible, spend a minute or two with the reporter or host
before the broadcast to review the parameters of the interview. This
is an appropriate time to mention the major points you would like to
raise during the interview.
- Anticipate key questions and be prepared to use those questions as
launching pads for your communications objectives.
- Anticipate potentially negative questions and prepare responses that
focus on positive points.
- Don't be defensive; be reasonable and understanding of others' points
- End every answer on a positive, upbeat note. Be sincere.
- Always tell the truth. Don't try to deceive. There is no way to win
with that approach.
- Crystallize your ideas and thoughts into a few short, hard-hitting
phrases or "sound bites." Unlike the print media, where a reporter can
condense your conversation in his article, radio and television interviews
must be condensed at inception.
- Use examples whenever possible. Examples dramatize the message. However,
they should be interesting, brief and develop your point.
- Relax. Try to imagine yourself in a living room and speak naturally.
- Whenever possible, preview a program before your appearance and learn
the style of the host. Familiarity with the show will make you more
comfortable and relaxed during your appearance.
- Make full use of television's potential as a visual medium. Use real
clients, or offer to conduct a quick search for the news reporter as
a demonstration. You also can use slides, charts and other visual aids
What to Avoid
There are also certain things to avoid when dealing with the broadcast
- Unless instructed otherwise, don't look into the television camera.
Look directly at the host or person you are addressing; leave camera
work to the crew.
- Don't be afraid to say, "I don't know," if, in fact, you don't know.
Be prepared to paraphrase opinions of other experts or explain frankly
that your expertise does not lie in that area if that's the case.
- Never be defensive about any aspect of your profession. You know your
materials better than your interviewer.
- When you encounter an opposing point of view, refrain from restating
your critic's position. Instead, say, "I'll let my opponents speak for
themselves, but my position is..."
- Don't wear pure white or pure black clothing. Pastels and medium tones
of gray, blue, or brown work well. Solid colors are most effective;
patterns create an illusion of movement. Avoid jewelry that swings or
flashes, even lapel pins. Men should wear over the calf socks and be
sure to have a clean shave. Women should avoid very short skirts and
low necklines. Even v-necks are exaggerated by the camera and make women
look "long in the neck."