Adam Batstone, Journalist and Electric Airwaves Media Trainer

Why is it that experienced media performers – politicians especially – often fall into the trap of getting into a heated ‘row’ with an interviewer when it is almost always counter-productive for the audience?

In my experience of conducting interviews and preparing interviewees, the specters of Paxman, Neil and Humphrys still loom large. Theirs is a lasting legacy that casts fear into anyone who thinks the media spotlight is about to shine upon them.

If you are not used to being interviewed – and to a certain extent even if you are a veteran media performer – the cards are stacked against you. Journalists and broadcasters do this every day, the studio is their castle and they are in command. Lights, cameras, microphones are their tools and they are surrounded by varying numbers of people with indeterminate roles who are very much ‘on their side’. You get told where to sit, where to look, when to speak and quite often what to say (at least how long you have got to say it).

But take heart – for all is not lost. There remain many good reasons why doing a media interview makes sense and will not be the nightmare it is often considered to be.

The first reason is that the vast majority of interviews can be classed as benign rather than hostile. The reason you are of interest to the media is that you have knowledge or experience which will shed light on a complex or topical subject. They don’t want to trip you up or make you look stupid. They would rather that you look, sound and be as memorable as possible so the audience continues to listen. These kind of interviews vastly outweigh the more scary hostile encounters when you are being challenged about a decision or confronted with uncomfortable evidence.

And the second reason comes down to the general shift towards mediation rather than dispute. In law, mediation is increasingly popular as a quicker, cheaper and less painful method of reaching a settlement. Increasingly, the media is adopting a similar approach.

I know for a fact that a number of well known (and feared) presenters have heeded the negative feedback from audience panels and are adopting a more conciliatory approach to interviews. Not for them the Paxman eye-roll or the Humphrys ‘sneer’ – instead a more forensic, calmer approach intended to shed light rather than generate heat. This interview style may not lead to viral videos of walk-outs or meltdowns, but it may boost understanding and give the interviewee a chance to make their point or explain a decision. There is always a bigger picture, the trouble comes for most interviewees when they don’t get the chance to explain it.

Many of us of a certain age will remember that Jeremy Paxman once asked then Home Secretary Michael Howard the same question 14 times in a row during a Newsnight interview. A far smaller number will recall what they were talking about.

Any interviewee should prepare beforehand, but that preparation doesn’t need to be in hand-to-hand combat or clever put-downs.

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