April 23 Event Summary: Inside the Mind of a Reporter

On April 23, 2009, Mark Bernheimer, Principal of MediaWorks Mark Bernheimer photoResource Group  (http://www.mediaworksgroup.com/), and former CNN correspondent, presented insight on news reporting and interviewing to 20+ IABC members.  The late, great Tim Russert would have celebrated this lively, interactive event and Mark’s key point: “Always have a message of distinction prepared.”

We watched a hilarious clip of imposter reporter Stephen Colbert interviewing Georgia Congressman Westmoreland, whose questionable PR team did not prepare the deer-in-the-headlights congressman for Colbert’s questions…or even Colbert’s fake reporter status!  

While IABC members are much smarter in preparing our executives, employees, or clients for real interviews on or off-camera, Mark’s example illustrates the crucial need for his 2-step formula when preparing interviewees:

1. Satisfy interviewee’s own objectives first (get his/her messages across)
2. Help the reporter satisfy his/her objectives

We watched more video clips illustrating tricks by reporters, who are not looking for answers. Capturing sound bytes is the goal.  Unsuspecting, unprepared interviewees provide emotion. Better story, but an even better train wreck from a PR perspective if unprepared.

In addition, interviewees:
• should never answer a question they don’t know the answer to (instead say, “We’ll try to get information for you later.”)
• should not answer a question they don’t understand (reporters often prepare minutes prior to interview asking confusing questions…interviewee should ask for clarification.)
• should direct a question better suited to someone else when necessary
• should not answer questions based on reporter’s speculation about the future (news stories are more dramatic regarding what could have happened, not what did happen.)

Finally, volunteer Jessica Schlotter put Congressman Westmoreland to shame during Mark’s surprise on-camera interview. Jessica did a terrific job answering Mark’s questions.  She delivered messages of distinction regarding IABC’s purpose with the audience in mind. Mark suggested Jessica’s only improvement was to always insert the organization’s name instead of using pronouns like “we” during the interview.  Here’s Mark’s interview of Jessica…

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