Your experience with the media will be different depending on what position you are running for and what outlet is the most prominent. I’ve had totally different experiences each time I ran, in my first election I literally had the local newspaper calling me before I even made it home after registering, in my second race I had to call the same newspaper and ask if they were going to interview me.
As I’ve stated before, in my first race (the race I lost) I basically treated the media as people working against me, I didn’t think about what I said, I rambled on at times, was too short at other times, and did almost all of the interviews while multitasking. Needless to say they all came out pretty poor, and left me upset and pointing fingers. By the second race however, I wised up and began looking at the media as a part of my strategy. I will show you how simply being prepared beforehand can make doing any interview mutually beneficial for yourself, and the journalist you’re working with.
In the article “Before you run” I already covered some preparation you will need to do before your first media interview, however I would like to expand on that here. Keep in mind that the best preparation you can have is to know your platform inside and out, and always tell the truth. You can’t get caught lying if you never lie. Likewise you need to have core principles and your own set of ideas that you feel comfortable talking about with anyone. That alone will make you far more comfortable when doing interviews.
90% of all media interviews I did was with the local newspaper, with a little bit of radio thrown in as well. It will likely be the same with your local election, however these principles all remain the same regardless of if you’re on print, radio, or TV. Your first issue of research is to go back and read all of the interviews with past candidates from the last election, I personally went and read everything I could find from four to eight years back. With almost everything being archived digitally, this is easier than ever now, simply go to the media outlet’s website and either search for articles regarding the position you’re running for, or search by name of the candidates. This may sound like a lot of work but in reality we are only talking about anywhere from four to 10 columns depending on how far back you go. While reading these articles you want to keep an eye on a few things:
1. Recurring issues that are still relevant today. Take note of these issues/questions, and give serious consideration to not only how you would answer, but how your solutions will be different than anything anyone has said in the past. In order to stand out you can’t give typical answers to the same old questions, really put effort in how you can come at the problem from a different angle, or at the very least with some new energy.
2. The names of the journalists conducting the interviews, and if they all have a similar style or if there are obvious differences between them. For instance, you may notice that your local paper sways to a certain political party or candidate, or that one journalist is more aggressive and writes more pointedly than his coworkers. Knowing this will help you know what to expect before the interview starts.
3. How your opponent answered. Obviously this only matters if you’re running against an incumbent. The point of knowing what they said isn’t so you can use it against them to smear mud (although you definitely could and it’d probably work) but to truly know the differences between the both of you at a fundamental level. If you’re echoing your opponent on almost every point, why would anyone vote for you when they could just continue to go with someone who’s experienced and someone they’re used to? I’ve never run a mud smearing campaign, and at the local level you most likely won’t need to either, but you should also know of any promises or guarantees that your opponent has made that they weren’t able to back up. You may never use it on a big platform but it may be a good point of discussion in a one on one conversation you’re having on why someone should vote for you.
After you’ve done some reading on past interviews, I highly recommend you start to write out answers to potential questions. I understand that this may not seem necessary, but this will seriously help you out in two major ways. First, this is a great exercise to really formulate your ideas and will help you lay them out in a clear and concise way before you go public with your thoughts. Second, if you lose your train of thought in a phone interview with your newspaper, you have notes you can use to get back on track.
Throughout all of your research, I recommend that you keep an eye on social media, and what people are talking about most often. People can get more radical online than they are in real life, so I highly recommend you take it all with a grain of salt, but see if there are recurring themes that people are discussing. In today’s times a lot of issues rise on social media first before they hit the media and public policy, so this is a great way to be one of the first to speak for the people. Let’s say you’re running for city council and a lot of people are complaining online about potholes yet no one has acknowledged this as a problem or have given a serious solution. In a situation like this, you want to do some research on the city’s pothole problem and be the first person to call attention to it in a media interview giving a serious solution to it that people can stand behind.
First I want to make sure you are in the right mindset for your interview. In a local election you shouldn’t be worrying about your local paper “working against you” like I did in my first campaign. The reason I thought that way was because I was very insecure and assumed that everyone at my local newspaper wanted the incumbent to win. This was a really bad mindset to have while going into interviews, if they journalist asked me a reasonable question I wasn’t sure how to answer, it only confirmed my belief that they didn’t want me to win. The truth of the matter is that the person interviewing you may not even care who wins, may even have the same concerns you do, or is just genuinely concerned about who may be the next elected official in their city and wants to understand you better for themselves. But let’s say that all of your fears are true, your local paper doesn’t want you to win, and they don’t like you. Guess what that changes with the following advice…nothing. (ok if it’s really blatant and they are straight up lying in their coverage of you I would record the audio to the interviews as well and release them in their entirety IF it was seriously that bad)
Once again, I can’t emphasize enough how important preparation is before your interviews, and this is why.You want to make it as easy as possible for the journalist to cover you, you can make their job easier by having short concise answers that are easy for them to write up. During interviews, it is very easy to get caught off guard or ramble on. You do not want to do this, when you ramble on you make it extremely hard for the journalist to figure out what you’re trying to get across, and may either miss your main point, or simply post a quote that makes no sense.
One night during my first campaign my friend and I were making fun of people who move to Lincoln and think they are better than everyone else, we agreed that people are the same there too and that it isn’t much better than our town. The next day I got a phone call from my local paper while I was at work. I didn’t realize they were doing another story, didn’t care, and did the interview on the spot. With loud machines going on in the background (OBVIOUSLY don’t do an interview over the phone with a lot of background noise), I told the reporter that I didn’t see that big of a difference between Fremont and Lincoln. The reporter sounded genuinely confused and asked what I mean. (Afterall I just declared that I thought a city of under 27,000 wasn’t much different than a city of over 284,000 that also happens to be the state capital with a student population of 26,000). My response of course, was more rambling, and when the article came out, my friends roasted me for sounding stupid. I could have avoided all of this if I had either asked to call the reporter back later in the day, or had kept notes on what I wanted to do when elected, that way, I would have always sounded consistent in my interviews. Learn from my mistakes.
If you have done your research, written out your thoughts and potential questions and answers, give yourself the time and space for the interview, and are in a positive frame of mind, you have done the best you can to prepare. If anything unexpected pops up, don’t be afraid to take a few moments to think before you respond, and remember you can ask for something to be off the record BEFORE you say it. I have only asked a journalist to keep something off the record one time, and here is how I did it:
Me: “Can I ask you something off the record?”
Reporter: “Yeah, you want this off the record?”
Me: “Ok so this is off the record?”
If you don’t say you want something off the record BEFORE you say it, the reporter does not have to comply. Keep that in mind, I would say most people I know in local politics don’t actually know this.
If you follow this advice, you will go into your next interview well prepared, and with some positive energy. Feeling excited and passionate about the future will translate really well if you take the time to prepare it, and say it clearly. These interviews are a good thing, and an exciting thing, it will be exciting for your family and friends to see you on the front of the paper for something good! You want to make a difference, are actually doing something about it, and your local paper is covering it, this is a very good thing! Make sure to post these articles everywhere from your personal social media, to your campaign’s website and social media. This is the fun part of the race, make sure to enjoy it!