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Columns: How to Handle a Broadcast Interview
When to Play and When to Pass
Diversity Media Watch from: MinnesotaCaliforniaNew YorkMichiganGeorgia

Making Diversity News

How to Handle a Broadcast Interview

Perhaps no media work is as pressure-charged as a broadcast interview but no other opportunity affords the chance to reach so many people with a message that is unfiltered by journalists. Short of advertising, broadcast interviews are the most direct way to get your point across to large numbers of people.

The key to preparation is choosing your key messages, and then asking yourself what you are most likely to be asked, what you are most afraid to be asked, and what you hope to be asked. Work through how you would answer those questions, and you'll find that the rest of the interview will flow naturally from there.

A few tips:

  • Find out in advance the format of the show, the length of your interview, the composition of the audience, and the host's general political viewpoint. Ask about other guests who may appear with you, or just before or after your segment.
  • If the reporter is taping you in order to excerpt a small segment, speak in short sound bites--five- to 20-second answers that make the point in a punchy, memorable way.
  • Find out in advance if a talk show takes calls from listeners. If so, ask friends or colleagues to call in.
  • During the interview, use the host's name, repeat your message, and make answers brief but not terse.
  • Avoid jargon, acronyms and abbreviations.
  • Use anecdotes and personal stories to illustrate your points, staying away from large amounts of data and instead focusing on the human interest aspects of your message.

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When to Play and When to Pass

Diversity practitioners should definitely be more aggressive about engaging with the media. And, it's almost always a good idea to rise to the challenge in a crisis. But there are sometimes circumstances that would prompt you to batten down the hatches and weather a storm. If your hand is weak, and there's little to be gained by dragging out a controversy by rebutting minor points, it's sometimes legitimate just to ride it out.

One way to think about whether you should respond is to imagine how you might write a letter-to-the-editor on the subject. If you find yourself quibbling over trivialities, and repeating the negative points made against you or your cause, you're not helping yourself by engaging.

But remember: this is a high-risk, low return strategy. You would employ it in a circumstance where you think the controversy is likely to run its course with few damaging effects. The risk is that if your judgment turns out to be wrong, you'll probably never regain the high ground on the story.

The circumstances under which you would take this "ride it out" strategy are very rare. In almost all cases, you'll want to engage the media when they come calling about a crisis. In fact, once the crisis is upon you, it may be best not to wait for them to call. Reach out to major outlets with your positive take on the story, write op-eds, send letters-to-the-editor, book appearances on radio shows, and more.

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Media Watch
News Clips


"A minority student applicant was only slightly more likely to be accepted by the University of Minnesota on its Twin Cities campus than a white applicant in 1997 and 1998, according to University of Minnesota admissions data. That seems to fly in the face of the findings of a report issued Thursday by the Center for Equal Opportunity (CEO) of Washington, D.C. That report charges the university with an admissions policy that's unfairly tilted toward accepting minority students and discriminates against white applicants as a result.... 'One of the things we do look at is whether our enrollment will enhance university diversity. But we look at that very broadly...For instance, there's ethnic diversity, special talents or skills, or does someone come from a Minnesota county we feel is underrepresented at the university?' said Wayne Sigler, director of admissions for the Twin Cities campus." ("Admission Rates at 'U' Challenge Charge of Racial Bias," Star Tribune, 10 September 1999)

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"[The] Southern California chapter [of the American Civil Liberties Union] filed [a] class action suit on behalf of four Inglewood High School students against the state Department of Education and the Inglewood Unified School District. They charge that thousands of black and Latino students are denied equal access to UCLA and UC-Berkeley...because their schools do not offer as many Advanced Placement courses as schools with predominantly white students....The rich, famous and mostly white Beverly Hills High School offers 14 AP courses, including six in science and math, the lawsuit points out, while Inglewood High School offers only three AP courses--none of them in science or math--and a dozen honors courses. This is typical of schools that serve mostly black and Latino students, the suit argues.... It is about time that somebody went to bat for hard- working, academically bright students who have been getting short-changed simply because they live in the 'wrong' neighborhood." Columnist Clarence Page. ("An Equal Opportunity to Succeed," The Austin American-Statesman, 3 August 1999)

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New York

"Tolerance, breadth of mind and appreciation for the world beyond our neighborhoods: these can be learned on the football field and in the science lab as well as in the lecture hall. But only if students are exposed to America in all her variety....I have often wondered how different the world might have been in the 1940's, 50's and 60's--how much more humane and just--if my generation had experienced a more representative sampling of the American family....At its core, affirmative action should try to offset past injustices by fashioning a campus population more truly reflective of modern America and our hopes for the future....I don't want future college students to suffer the cultural and social impoverishment that afflicted my generation." Former president, Gerald Ford defends his alma mater, University of Michigan's affirmative action policies. ("Inclusive America, Under Attack," New York Times, 8 August 1999).

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"Affirmative action has enhanced the quality of the student body by creating an atmosphere of diversity.... The use of race in admissions has often led to heated debates.... One controversial issue is the argument that affirmative action produces graduates that are not qualified for the workplace. In a study recently published in the Law Quadrangle Notes, the University Law School showed that race was not a barrier to success for law graduates....[the study] also finds that the numerical admission standards of the Law School Admissions Test and undergraduate grade point average bear no relationship with one's achievement after law school." ("Affirmative Action Produces Quality Graduates," Michigan Daily, 2 August, 1999)

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"As an African-American senior facing the college admission process, the arguments over affirmative action hold a special meaning for me. Across the country, and now in Georgia, the constitutionality of affirmative action is being challenged by white students who feel they are victims of discrimination.... I believe [affirmative action] is a necessary part of diversifying the workplace and college campuses. Far too many qualified minorities have been neglected in the past.... College is not just courses and seminars, but also the valuable lessons which can be learned from being in a diversified setting, among people with different experiences to share. I want there to be people of different races, from families with different incomes and from all over the country and the world for my college experience." Namik Minter, senior, The Paideia School, Stone Mountain, Georgia. ("New Attitudes: Make Diversity Society's Norm," The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, 2 August 1999)

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