« Rethinking Video Games in the Academic Library | Main | And the most “satisfying” library is… »

September 19, 2007


Ken Varnum

I've had little experience dealing with the press (and am batting 1.000 in being quoted, to my detriment, out of context) -- but I think I've done best when I've answered as if it were a job interview or as if I were taking questions at a presentation. My errors are that I forget I know my stuff -- at least in the context of whatever I'm being interviewed or questioned on -- and let that get in the way.

Broad questions such as the one you were posed aren't really looking for answers; they're looking for interesting ideas. And you're full of them -- so let fly.


Did you see the ACRLog post on academic librarians as experts - we aren't born as experts in this area. But deliberate practice can help. You can train to think more in sound bytes. Reporters don't want long stream of consciousness answers. They want stuff they can quote. You mentioned not getting out your stuff about experience and engagement. Have you developed sound bytes for those concepts. So when you get asked "what's the future of the learning commons" you say "what's coming next is elevated engagement - putting them in situations when they have a learning experience" - or something like that. But you are ready to go rapid fire with your bytes - you get to the level where you can automatically spit them out in any response. So take those questions - and have someone ask them again - and maybe again after that - and you'll start to get better at thinking in terms of sound bytes (PS - at philau they had professional reporters and media geeks come in and give us training in talking to reporters - I didn't want to go but it was a great learning experience - they even videotaped us getting interviewed). I'm certainly no expert - but practice can help.


Before an interview, figure out a maximum of three things that are essential for the reporter to take away and make sure that you get the conversation around to those few things. It may feel unnatural to steer the interview into planned talking points, but if these are the things that you are excited about, the things that are most important for your audience to hear, the things that make you love being a librarian, then they will sound genuine and interesting and they will come across naturally.

It's similar to a job interview where all of your answers are truthful but they are also chosen to make points such as "I am knowledgeable", "I am dynamic", "I am a good fit for your organization".

There is nothing inherently dishonest about talking points. I think they (wrongly) have a bad rap because they are tainted by politicians and talking heads who use them to manipulate or evade.

The other thing that you can do to increase your impact whether talking to a reporter or writing, is to communicate with stories. Notice how a reporter will frame an article around an anecdote.

Imagine an article about a school district's decision to cut down on the number of school buses in order to save money, thereby lengthening the routes for each bus and the amount of time students spend on the bus each day. A reporter doesn't start that article with a statement from a school trustee. He starts it by painting the picture of poor little six-year-old Billy Smith who wakes up at 5:30 in the morning so that he can board the bus pre-dawn.

Figure out the stories that paint the pictures you are trying to communicate and pass them along to the reporter. My experience is that they are grateful to an interview subject that recognizes what reporters need to do their job.

Troy Jewell

Brian: I know the reporter wanted "off-the-cuff- answers," but just give her a call, explain some of your misgivings, and ask if there are any follow-up questions or if your comments need clarification. In other words, start another "on record" conversation. Most reporters, as long as they aren't butting up against a deadline, are amiable to such things.

By the way, congratulations on your promotion, and when are you scheduled to make your way to Florida next? I'm sure your mom would like to see you.


Mark K.

The previous commenters all have good advice that I won't repeat, so, just a few brief suggestions:

--Learn how to stall graciously. I've found that saying "That's a really interesting question" and then pausing to give a friendly smile (or an eminently serious pondering look, as appropriate) allows me just enough time to organize my thoughts a bit.

--Learn to recognize analogous questions, such as "What's the future of the academic library?" and "Where are books going to be five years from now?" Chances are you have an answer you've used before that will fit the new question.

--Learn to meta-converse. When I give a lame answer, I'll usually follow with something like, "I'm sorry, sometimes it's hard for me to fully express how important I think this is." And then I'll try again. Or if I sense a long, rambling answer coming on, I'll say something like, "I could go a lot of different ways with that. Were you more interested in X, or in Y?"


Having been quoted out of context this year, I'd say... interview in writing. Then you can at least fine tune your words.

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo
Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 05/2006