How to Facilitate a Successful Media Interview

How To 4 min
Working together with your subject matter expert (SME) before and after media interactions benefits everyone and ensures a good communication strategy on and off base. Following the steps below will help you prepare a  SME for either a print or on-camera interview with a news media representative.

This is the most critical phase of the interview. While the SME is the technical/command expert on the subject matter, YOU are the expert on the conduct of the interview.

Rehearse the conduct of the interview with the SME, focusing on Q&As and formulating effective responses. Critique and rehearse interview techniques relevant to the type of interview (on camera or print).

  • Present SME with a package of themes, messages, talking points and Q&As to assist in his interview preparation.
  • Provide SME all products you are giving the reporter to build their situational awareness.
  • Include read-ahead materials:
    • Bio
    • News
    • Motivations
    • Affiliate of the reporter
  • Review the ground rules you will put in place for the interview.
    • We have X minutes (time limit) for the interview
    • All questions will be on X topic
    • Any questions not pertaining to X topic can be addressed with PA at a later time
    • All information is on the record and any quotes can be attributed to SME
  • Use a mobile device to record and give feedback during the practice so the SME can see themselves and self-critique.
  • Ensure interview location is free of distractions and classified/sensitive information. Seek opportunities for setting to complement message.
  • Discuss your role during the interview and come to consensus on your interaction during the interview process.

Esper Interviewed on MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell Reports
Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper is interviewed on MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell Reports, at the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., Jan. 2, 2020. (DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando)
Photo by: Lisa Ferdinando
VIRIN: 200102-D-BN624-0005
Introduce the SME to the reporter, go over the ground rules and express your role in the interview process. At this time, you should be making sure that when the interview is complete that the reporter knows to contact you and not the SME for any follow-up questions.

Defense Secretary Interviews with Jake Tapper on CNN
Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper speaks with CNN's Jake Tapper during a live interview on CNN in Washington D.C, Jan. 12, 2020. (DoD photo by Army Staff Sgt. Nicole Mejia)
Photo by: Army Staff Sgt. Nicole Mejia
VIRIN: 200112-D-AP390-1001
You must maintain your role as a FACILITATOR.

  • Critically assess when, if at all, you need to inject yourself into the interview process, relying on criteria previously discussed with SME.
  • LISTEN and take notes. This will allow you to effectively follow up with the reporter and SME on issues.

BBC News reports about recent ballistic missile attack at Al-Asad Airbase
Nafiseh Kohnavard, a BBC Persian news field reporter, left, asks a U.S. Air Force Airman questions during an interview at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, Jan. 12, 2020. Multiple international news agencies were invited by military officials to participate in a media event at Al Asad due to the recent ballistic missile attacks. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Derek Mustard)
Photo by: Spc. Derek Mustard
VIRIN: 200112-A-DS044-1028
At this point, whether it was determined by a preset amount of time or the reporter has finished questioning, you would close the interview.

  • Thank the SME and reporter.
  • Reinforce that if any missed questions come up to reach out to the PA office.
  • Have the reporter escorted off of the installation (if invited on for the interview).

Once the reporter has departed you can move to the next step.

SD and Amanpour
Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper shakes hands with staff as he finishes a video interview with CNN International's Christiane Amanpour, at the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., Jan. 7, 2020. (DoD photo by Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class James K. Lee)
Photo by: Petty Officer 2nd Class James K. Lee
VIRIN: 200107-D-WA993-1808
After the interview, you are providing the SME with THREE assessments:

  1. Measure of performance. How effectively did the SME perform during the interview? The focus of this assessment is to build on the SME’s interview skills for upcoming interview opportunities.
  2. Measure of impact and coverage. What is the forecasted tone and content of the story and how will it impact the command and our various audiences? A critical analysis of the reporter’s knowledge, sources, angle and intent will assist in this analysis.
  3. Evaluation of the actual coverage.  How did measures 1 and 2 relate to the published work?  Did the reporter follow the predicted coverage? As a unit, what can be gained from the coverage? Were all the quotes used on X topic? Was the given messaging used or paraphrased? A thorough and final assessment of the entire process should be given to SME and leadership.

Chairman's Senior Enlisted Advisor Sits for DMA Interview
The Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman, Army Command Sgt. Maj. John Wayne Troxell, is interviewed at the Pentagon by Defense Media Activity reporter James Garamone, Washington, D.C., Oct. 17, 2019. (DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando)
Photo by: Lisa Ferdinando
VIRIN: 191017-D-BN624-0021