If you’ve never been on television or radio before, you might be very excited at a chance to become ‘famous’. Trust us (and we’ve regularly done radio and television shows) it is no big deal and not something that will change your life (unless you make a colossal fool of yourself!).
However, we are not saying you should refuse to participate in media programs; quite the opposite. The fact that you’re reading this article now means you have more likelihood of doing a better job than most other people, because you’re a bit more aware and educated about the issues. Better that you do an average to good job, than someone else instead does a poor to bad job!
But be cautious (and see our article about why the media is typically biased against prepping). Try to remember that the friendly interviewer is no more your friend and no more truly trying to help you than is a ‘friendly’ policeman asking you about a crime you are alleged to have committed. Police officers, if talking honestly, will tell you that no-one has ever talked their way out of being charged with a crime they committed; all they have done is incriminate themselves and make the arresting officer’s job easier. It is a bit like that with a reporter, too.
Is the Interviewer Positive, Negative, or Neutral?
There are perhaps two main types of reporters – the ones who unfortunately have already written their story in their mind, and now are just looking to get some quotes and ‘local color’ to round out the story, and then there are a few who approach the story with a relatively open mind and look for interesting things to come out of an interview.
If you’re reasonably sure that the reporter is looking to do a ‘hit piece’ on prepping, then you are better advised not to participate, because it is not and never would be a ‘fair fight’. The reporter is massively more skilled than you are at verbal jousting, plus he gets to choose the introduction, the questions, when to cut you off, and how to end the piece. No matter how eloquent and skilled you might be, in such a battle with the odds so unfairly stacked against you, it is better not to participate. Hopefully no-one else will participate either, but if they do, that is their problem, not yours.
Choose Your Words Carefully
Even with friendly reporters, be careful in what you say, and don’t use summary statements that are absolutist; but instead, always use cautious statements that are qualified. Don’t say something like ‘When a gas attack occurs, we have everything we need to survive it’. Instead, say, ‘in the unlikely event that a gas attack might ever happen, then we are probably better able to hopefully get through it than most other people’.
Don’t say ‘WTSHTF, everyone around us will die, but we will survive’. Instead say ‘in the unlikely but not impossible event of some type of future disaster, many people will suffer and not everyone will survive, but hopefully we’ll have a better chance of getting through it’.
Don’t say ‘I’ve got a basement full of guns and ammo, and after TEOTWAWKI, I won’t hesitate to shoot all my neighbors who come demanding I share my food with them’. Say ‘In an extreme food shortage, I’m worried that groups of looters may attempt to take the food from me and my family by force. If I must, I will attempt to defend myself and my family, but I hope it won’t ever come to that.’
If pressed on how many and what sorts of guns you own, say ‘Like most Americans, I do own some guns. They are all legal and lawfully owned, but owning guns is not really what prepping is all about. I’d rather talk about positive things like how I can grow my own food and become self-sufficient rather than talk about guns and hunting’.
Do you get the idea? You want to show yourself as a thoughtful regular kinda guy (or gal). Yes, you have invested time, money and resource into preparing for possible adverse things in the future, but it is only a small part of your overall life and lifestyle. You’re also an employee (or employer), possibly a parent, probably a son or daughter, a sibling, maybe a member of a local church or sports group or community organization, and so on.
And while you do prepare for future challenges, you also acknowledge that they may never occur. Indeed, you fervently hope they don’t occur.
Here are some more specific suggestions and recommendations and explanations about dealing with the media.
Radio and Television Interview Preparation and Presentation
If you are approached by a print media journalist, then of course there is a difference between his talking/interviewing with you, and the article he subsequently writes, and you can interactively work together to build his piece.
But if you are approached by a radio or television show presenter or their producer, and are invited to participate in a segment on a show, you want to try to do as much groundwork as possible before the show – both for your sake and for the sake of getting good fair coverage of the topic. The only control you have over the final piece is what happens before you get on air/on camera.
Don’t just say ‘Yes, sure, I’ll be on your show, when and where is it?’. Instead say ‘Yes, I’d be pleased to help you with the show. What exactly are you hoping to cover? What is the angle or focus of the piece?’ Find out what they are trying to demonstrate or explain; and then help them with the research and interesting facts and figures and suggest some questions they could ask you and answers you would give.
The more you can help prepare the ground before the interview, the more you can help shift the topic of the interview onto issues that are positive and matters you are comfortable discussing. Indeed, tell the show’s researchers, presenters, or producers up front about what you are and are not knowledgeable about, and what you can and can’t talk about or show or do. Also ask them about their typical audience and how to present in a manner in keeping with the show and its audience expectations. Don’t be difficult – everything should be offered in a helpful and positive manner, or else they’ll simply drop you from the show and choose someone ‘easier’ instead.
Try and get a copy of the script that will be used to lead in to your interview, and try to see what the questions are that you’ll be asked, so you can prepare answers.
The chances are that the presenter will go off script quickly during your actual piece. Maybe you said something that was interesting and unexpected they want to pick up on, maybe you went off topic, or maybe they are rushed for time and wanting to move on.
So your focus should be on setting the general topic coverage before the piece is put together, and on understanding where the piece is coming from and what the first question to you will be.
When you know what the topic is, try to include among your answers some independent facts and figures – not too many, but one or two, so as to give substance to what you are saying and to make you seem like an authoritative expert.
You need to understand if you’ll be on a live show or if your piece is being pre-recorded. Appearing live has its pluses and its minuses – the minus for most people will be that if you make a mistake or get tongue-tied, you just have to live with it and keep on moving forward. The plus is that what you say is what is shown; no-one can play editing tricks on you.
Having your material pre-recorded also has pluses and minuses. The plus is that if you make a mistake, you can (and should) redo the part and have it edited for the final production so your answers seem more smooth and well delivered. The negative is that you have to rely on the honesty and ethics of the editors so as not to distort your answers.
Here’s an interesting article on how the main stream media edited an innocent conversation to make it sound very different indeed. There is no polite way to say this – the main stream media deliberately distorted the context and meaning of this. It could happen to you, too.
There’s not much you can do to protect yourself against such distortions – which can either take the form of cutting up your answers, or the form of changing the questions that it seems you are answering. The interviewer might say ‘Do you believe in God?’ and you answer, proudly, ‘Yes, I do’; but then it might be edited so that the question you are answering is now ‘Do you believe in the supremacy of white people over black people?’, with the same positive answer ‘Yes I do’ then being played in apparent answer to the new question.
Okay, that’s an extreme example of what could (but probably won’t) happen, but an offline editing process can, whether accidentally or deliberately, introduce errors or cut off important parts of your replies.
However, we make these comments largely for your information rather than action, because there’s not much you can do about it. Programs won’t switch from being live to pre-recorded or vice versa just to suit you – even leading politicians and other public figures have to conform to the program’s format, rather than vice versa.
So accept the format with good grace and do the best you can.
One thing to be careful about, when pre-recording, is to realize that your statements might be edited, deleted, or played out of sequence. So don’t say in your answer to the second question ‘As I said before …..’ because maybe the earlier question and answer will be deleted. Each of your answers should be a self-contained statement. Similarly, don’t make your answers simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers, because maybe they’ll want to edit out the question and just play your answer. So if you are asked the question ‘Do you think it is sensible to prepare for future problems’ don’t just say ‘yes’; say ‘I believe it is sensible to prepare for future problems’. And if you are asked ‘How many months of food do you have stored’ don’t just say ‘six’; say ‘I have six months of food stored’.
Whereas with print, you usually have a chance to read over the almost completed article and suggest (but not demand!) changes, if a radio/tv program is being pre-recorded, you almost never have a chance to see it before it airs or to participate in the editing process. That’s just something you have to accept.
The One Thing to Never Say/Do
You can say or do many things to most reporters, and that’s okay. They’ve heard and seen much worse before. But there’s one thing to never say or do. Don’t call them dishonest or biased. Even if they are – and even if they know they are – it is one of the unwritten ground-rules that everyone pretends they are honest and fair and balanced.
You can criticize many aspects of their coverage, and many technical elements of the presentation, and they’ll either accept or ignore your comments (but better to never criticize at all!). However, never ever say ‘this is biased’ or ‘you are biased’. This will get their backs up immediately and completely.
The best way to get things improved accepts the adage ‘You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar’. Start off by saying ‘This is a good treatment, and you’ve done a much better job than I could ever do at summarizing a complex topic into a short clear statement’. Then, pause, and say ‘But….’ and then thoughtfully offer a suggestion for an improvement such as ‘maybe, do you think, it might be better to mention xxxx as well as the comments on yyy you already have’ or ‘I’m worried if your readers will understand the backstory to my comment about zzz, perhaps it might help to add a bit of explanation’ or ‘It is good that you include a reference to qqq, but maybe it would be better to save that for a follow-up article later, and to keep this first piece fairly clean and clear and more focused on rrr.’
Never talk about bias. Never talk about ‘corrections’ (instead talk about ‘clarifications’ or ‘enhancements’ or something positive, and if you’re really stuck, apologize for you having done an earlier poor job explaining, rather than accuse the presenter of doing a poor job of understanding). Oh – never ever ever talk about attorneys or suing! If the worst comes to the worst, you can say (and formally put in writing) ‘I’m sorry, I’m not comfortable with the piece as it is written and I must withdraw my agreement to be included/mentioned/pictured/photographed’.
Photographs and Video
Please – refuse to be photographed (or videotaped) wearing a gas mask. Refuse to be photographed with guns, or in camouflage. Simply say ‘these things are such a small part of what prepping is about that I don’t want to cause them to be blown out of proportion’. Say ‘I’d rather be featured in a picture that shows that real, normal people are preppers’.
Now the media outlet of course wants something that will grab the attention of their audience, and again there’s the worry that if you won’t agree to be photographed in a gas mask with an ‘assault rifle’ and tens of thousands of rounds of ammo at your feet, they’ll find some other fool who will agree to that instead. So suggest something else instead – ‘How about a picture of me next to my well stocked pantry, or a picture of me running my standby generator?’. A neatly stacked and stocked pantry (not in some sort of unlined earthen cave, please!) is something normal people would envy and appreciate and aspire to. The same with a generator – there’s nothing crazy or strange about a person with a standby generator, and it is again an aspirational image rather than a crazy image.
Maybe you have a ham radio and you could be pictured in your ‘shack’ with some of your radio gear. Backup communications is another part of prepping which is less subject to misinterpretation.
Your objective is to appear as mainstream and ‘normal’ and to show an aspirational image.
If you are being interviewed on the radio, the chances are you’ll be on a phone call to the radio station rather than turning up in person to do the interview in their studio.
So be sure to use a good phone and landline rather than a cell phone or cordless phone with perhaps poorer sound quality. If you have a good computer and reliable internet connection, you might find a Skype call is even better quality than a regular phone line. Make sure there are no background sounds or distractions to interfere and interrupt.
On the radio, the only thing you have to share with the audience is your voice, so you need to speak clearly and well, and with expression. Here are three tips that are used by professional broadcasters.
- First, use a headset rather than a handset. That way your body is more relaxed and you are free to move your body and your arms. Which leads to the other two points.
- Second, stand up. When you are standing up, your chest is more opened up and you can project your voice better. We don’t mean shout, we just mean speaking clearly and strongly, like you would if in a room with twenty people.
- Third, move your arms and body a bit to give emphasis to what you’re saying. The physical movements will translate into voice intensity, too.
Remember, also, keep smiling and be friendly. Talk clearly and well, with stress and emphasis, but also conversationally as you would with a friend.
You should watch the show for a few days before appearing, if at all possible, so as to get a feeling for its format and style; its pacing and its presenters. If time doesn’t allow for this (often you’re approached in the morning and asked to participate in the afternoon) see if there are some clips on their website so you can at least get a little familiarity with the format, the presenters, and how you might be filmed.
Dress well to appear on the show. Try to copy the dress style of the presenters. Needless to say, wear ‘mainstream’ every day street clothing. No BDUs, no boots, not even cargo pants or vests. Choose slacks or chinos and a jacket, or a suit, and similar/equivalent things for women.
If you’re wearing a suit, wear a white shirt and a non-red color tie (reds are the hardest colors for television). Don’t wear clothing with tight patterns – they will get distorted through the television process. White shirts imply honesty and trust. Keep your jacket buttoned.
In general, you want to look at the interviewer, not at the camera(s) or other things around you. You never know when you’re going to be in close-up on the screen, so act all the time as if that is what is happening – even when the interviewer is talking (part of the editing process involving using pictures of the non-talking person to cover up an edit and cut to what the talking person is saying). Either be smiling (but not like a mindless fool) or adopt a look of intelligent uncertainty and concentration.
Ignore the cameras, even though it can be fascinating to watch them moving about the studio, but be aware that whichever camera is focused on you might be showing more of your body than you expect.
One time I was on an interview and was told that the cameras would only be taking my head and shoulders, but then when I saw the interview played on television, they were using a wide-angle that showed me and the interviewer, and all my body, down to my feet, showing my legs which were swinging back and forwards. Ooops. Made me look a bit stupid, and of course, there was no way I could then say ‘Hey, no fair’.
Okay, so you’re now reasonably prepared and done all you can to make sure you and the interviewer are on the same page about the questions that will be asked and the answers you’ll give. Please now click on to read our follow-up article ‘How to Give a Radio/TV Interview‘.