How specific training for print interviews can help you avoid a Leadsom-style slip
The Andrea Leadsom “motherhood” debacle has provided not just a painful and costly lesson for the now former Tory leadership contender, there's an essential lesson here for anyone preparing to be interviewed:
make sure any media training you have specifically prepares you for a print interview - in other words, you should walk away from that training with a real article based on your practice scenario.
Although many media training companies will help you handle a radio or TV interview, what Leadsom’s mishap makes clear is print is a totally different dynamic and should be covered realistically in any training.
Because of this - and the fact that most media interviewees won’t ever go on Newsnight or Radio 4’s Today programme - we make sure delegates go through a print interview scenario and then see that interview written up and handed to them “hot off the press”.
When those delegates see how their quotes have been used, it's clear the press interview exercise is the most illuminating of all the media interview types we cover.
Here’s why the print interview is so different:
- The line of questioning does not have to have the coherent flow of a broadcast interview - it does not have to sound like a normal conversation.
This means the questions can seem unsettlingly random and disconnected. The “flow” comes when the piece is written up, perhaps interspersed with quotes from other people.
- It’s the journalist, not the interviewee, who “cherry picks” the quotes to use and what becomes the main thrust of the piece. Suggesting caveats for what should be used or how it should be interpreted, like Leadsom did here, won't work and can even backfire:
“I am sure Theresa will be really sad she doesn’t have children so I don’t want this to be ‘Andrea has children, Theresa hasn’t’ because I think that would be really horrible.
“Genuinely I feel that being a mum means you have a real stake in the future of our country, a tangible stake.”
We would argue that when you really understand how newspaper reporters operate - regardless of your view on that - you can avoid this nightmare:
- There’s no tone of voice in newsprint. Humour, irony or even strident insistence cannot be heard. After all, jeweller Gerald Ratner’s infamous remark in a speech to the Institute of Directors that, “We also do cut-glass sherry decanters complete with six glasses on a silver plated tray that your butler can serve your drinks on, all for £4.95. People say, ‘How can you sell this for such a low price?’ I say, 'because it’s total crap”, was met with much laughter and applause from the audience at the time. The real damage was done when it was written up in the national press.
Journalists write for newspapers, not nuance-papers.
- Above all, you must choose every word carefully. It’s no good being “on message” for 95 per cent of the interview, but let your guard down right at the end with say, a flippant, facile remark, that could easily become the focus of the entire article.
So when you consider booking some media training, ask yourself which media outlets you’re most likely to talk to. And if the answer is predominantly regional newspapers, trade magazines, news websites or the national press, with perhaps rather less focus on TV and radio, make sure you pick a course that reflects that emphasis by putting you through relevant print exercises and then gives you the finished article to take home for future reference. Just being given audio recordings of your interviews is simply not the same.
As Leadsom found to her cost, it’s what’s in black and white that creates the most colour.