Primer: Your first, unexpected TV news interview

Oh no, that reporter is looking at me…

Don’t pick me, don’t pick me…run. I gotta get out of here, I gotta…

Oh hi! Yes, I was standing here and the cars just crashed right in front of me….


We know you’re annoyed, scared, mad and stressed out. You just saw a horrible accident. You’re having an awful hair day. And, it’s a Monday. The last thing you want to do is talk to some nosy TV reporter looking to ask you questions about what happened at any given event.

If you’ve never been interviewed for a TV news story in the past, chances are you will. I don’t have any statistics of what your chances will actually be, but lets just say – it could happen – and you should be prepared for what’s to come.

When it does, there are a few things you should know, from our perspective, to prove that we’re not the overly-aggressive, starving vultures looking to feast on what little bits of flesh are left at a crime or crash scene. No, while many people think us ‘news folk’ are the devil dressed in clothes too nice to be wearing at a forest fire, we’re just trying to do a job and get home to that glass of wine like everyone else (or Diet Dr. Pepper if you’re not a drinker).

Tips for a successful TV News interview

Here are a few tips on how to manage your first on-camera television interview so you and the reporter can both walk away with a sense of relief knowing that you may have helped someone:

Take a breath. Trust me, it’s harder to take a big breath than you think it will be. Sometimes anxiety creeps up just thinking of having to ‘perform’ on-air and you may start to get nervous and start acting like your dog just died. Take a nice, deep breath. Think about what the reporter is asking you and wait for a question.

The photographer may put the microphone on you, and that’s okay. Most of the time a reporter will have a ‘stick mike’ the kind of microphone you’re used to seeing on TV. It’s the kind they hold and it has a ‘mike flag’ on it. That’s the box with the TV stations logo and call letters on that. In that case, they’ll just point it in your direction. Just speak where you’re standing, no need to bend over to the microphone. It’ll pick up your voice. Sometimes, the reporter may need to use a ‘lav mike’ or lavalier. That’s the little tiny microphone with a cord that attaches to your jacket or shirt. Just be still and let the photographer (or sometimes reporter) affix it to your shirt, jacket, etc. Sometimes it intrudes slightly on your personal space. But just be still and it’ll be over in no time.

Listen to the question. It’s so easy to just start talking without really listening to the question. Be sure you hear what is being asked so you can craft a great answer to avoid sounding rushed and, well, nervous.

Ignore the camera. I often tell an interviewee to ‘just ignore the camera’. Almost always, a person interviewed for the first time likes to stare right into the camera. Think about the last time you saw someone on TV Being interviewed. Rarely, if ever are they staring into the camera. The reporter will stand just outside of the lens on either side of the photographer and will ask you questions. Just look them and listen.

Give your name (unless you’re wanted by the law). If you’re a convict on the run, just leave your name out and don’t tell us (unless you want it on the air). The reporter will ask you for your name and spell it. Don’t worry, we’re not going to put it on the internet and publicize it with ‘child molester’ above your name. Well, that is unless you are one. We just want to get your name right. It sucks when the media screws up your name. It happens to reporters too. My TV reporter friend ‘Mark’ has been supered (the graphic that shows your name) as ‘Mary’ more times than he’d like to remember!

Try to avoid the ‘ums’ & ‘ahs’. Again, a tough one. When you’re trying remember the events of what just occurred, it’s easy to say ummm or ahhh when you’re thinking. This is almost impossible to avoid, but you should know it’s very common and you may notice it when you’re back home watching the news at 6:00pm kicking yourself for, um…doing it so much.

Keep your answers as short as possible. Trust us, we know you have a lot to say and once we get you talking, you will talk until you think you’ve said it all. Remember, you have some time and the reporter has plenty of questions. So think about the question, answer it as best you can, and avoid rambling. The reporter will keep the discussion going. Sometimes interviewees think they have to answer all the questions in one sentence. Not the case. Take your time. It’ll actually give you time to remember more.

Wear a shirt. If you generally like to stroll around without a shirt on (I’m speaking to the guys for the most part) and a reporter comes up to talk to you, you can ask to put a shirt on. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve had ‘the shirtless’ on the news giving an interview. Florida is full of them. Most don’t seem to care. I guess we should credit them for giving us some answers in the first place, so I digress.

Ask when it will air, not for a DVD. You made it! The interview is over and you realize it wasn’t 90% as hard as you thought it would be. In celebration of your job well done, you’re hoping to get a copy because you probably don’t watch TV news anyway. It’s fine to ask the reporter when it’ll air. But don’t be frustrated if we don’t know. Sometimes we’re tossed out the door and rushing to a scene. We may have not heard when the story will air. We’re just focused on getting the story done. And don’t ask for ‘a copy’ of the story. We may forget. The best thing to do is call or email the TV station after the story airs. They’ll explain how to get a copy. It may cost you $20-$30. Don’t forget to check the website, it’ll likely end up there as well – for free after it airs (maybe even before) on the newscast.

Granted, there are dozens of other things you can do in addition to what I mentioned to make your interview picture perfect. But we don’t necessarily want that. We want you. And the better you are at explaining what you saw, the better chance you’ll make it in the story sounding authentic and informative. That’s better than a shot of you running away, bare-chested with people pointing and screaming ‘child molester’ as you frantically try to get back into your house.

See you soon!


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Josh Benson

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Josh Benson


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