July 28, 2008

Preparing For A Media Appearance

When you get a call from the media for an interview, how do you prepare? What goes through your mind?

COCM member Dr. Vandana Bhide, an internist and pediatrician in solo practice in St. Augustine, Florida, was called by the media recently about a situation in her community and shared with us her media lessons learned. She writes:

"Recently, I was interviewed by the CBS affiliate in Jacksonville, Florida to on a story about a local 14-year old girl who almost died of alcohol intoxication after attending an underage party. Here are some things I learned from my media experience:
1) Research, Research, Research. Even though I have spoken at town hall meetings and other forums for the public regarding the medical effects of alcohol on children (I am on the board of a local substance abuse counseling center which also runs a number of in-school alcohol and other drug abuse prevention and intervention programs), I felt so much more confident and calm when I had some time (OK, 30 minutes, tops, but better than no time at all) reviewing the important points I wanted to make about the topic. Even though only 10 seconds of it got on the air, it made for a more interesting 10 seconds!
2) Expect the Unexpected. When the reporter called me to meet for the interview, she asked me to meet her at the “Real Jail” (as opposed to the pretend jail???) After unsuccessful attempts at trying to find “Real Jail” under the “Points of Interest” section of my GPS and then also failing to find this location on Mapquest, I finally resorted to the old-fashioned technique of asking a policeman for directions. I finally figured out that the reporter was referring to the adult jail, not the juvenile detention center. When I saw the segment air, I realized that the reason the team was reporting at the jail was that three people had been arrested in conjunction with the underage party.
3) Be Humble. I gave the interview at 5 PM on a Saturday, and the segment was scheduled to air on the 6 o’clock news. I was told that the piece would probably be bumped off the 10 o’ clock news because of the approaching thunderstorm. You may think that your “expert” opinion is important, but maybe it isn’t in the big scheme of television news. Lesson learned: Weather is Important. Especially on the Atlantic Coast of Florida. Especially during hurricane season. Especially during a perfect golf weekend. I guess there wasn’t any breaking weather news because the segment did indeed air again on the 10 o’ clock news.
4) Generate interesting questions and answers. The only question the reporter asked me was, “Should parents speak to their children about alcohol?” The answer seems obvious, and yet studies show that the vast majority of parents don’t speak to their kids about the importance of refraining from alcohol and drugs. So I tried to avoid answering with a brief yes/no question and instead explored what are the barriers to parents and kids having this discussion.
5) Speak in English. Seems obvious, doesn’t it? But how many of us have been guilty at some time or the other of speaking in medicalese? Do television viewers understand that “the toxic effects of alcohol include bradycardia and other arrythmias, respiratory depression, hypotension and death by aspiration?” If the explanation is not easily understood, you may find your segment on the cutting room floor!"