News anchors presenting programmes from their living rooms and reporters trying to remain three metres away from those they are trying to interview for a vox pop.
Yes, these may be the more extreme examples, but it is fair to say that coronavirus has already had a huge impact on the media landscape and the way news is reported and delivered.
So, let us guide you through the changes and what this means for you and your spokesperson.
The rise of down-the-line interviews
The biggest change we have noticed is in the way TV and radio interviews are carried out.
As more people work remotely and are unable to travel, the number of spokespeople being interviewed in studios has fallen dramatically.
This is being replaced by down-the-line interviews, where spokespeople are interviewed through video formats like Skype and FaceTime.
What does this mean for spokespeople?
Down-the-line is a challenging format for spokespeople at the best of times, but it can be particularly uncomfortable in these set-ups.
As well as being the interviewee, you are also going to need to be the cameraman, soundman and in charge of the lighting.
And that can feel daunting, so it is perhaps not surprising that we’ve seen an increased demand for online media training that tests spokespeople on these formats and allows them to communicate with clarity and confidence.
Here are a few tips from Emma Nelson, one of our current working journalist tutors who has been delivering some of that bespoke training.
- Check your surroundings. What is in the background can be a huge distraction. Make sure that what can be seen behind you looks tidy and uncluttered. And be careful about positioning yourself in front of artwork.
- Then check your surroundings again. We cannot stress enough how important this is.
- Position the camera so that it flatters. A lens angled upwards fattens the face. Straight on or pointed slightly down slims it. Have any sources of light directed towards your face, not behind (i.e. don’t sit in the window). Ask the technical team at the other end of the line if the shot is properly framed.
- There’s also the issue of delay. If you hear an interviewer ask a question, finish your answer first. That way you’ll avoid the awkward exchanges where the spokesperson and journalist are constantly talking over each other.
- You might be at home, but you still need to look the part. So, make sure you dress smartly and look professional.
- Buy a decent microphone or headset. It doesn't have to be expensive but an external one will dramatically improve sound quality and ensure your message gets heard.
- Make sure you have a good quality Wifi connection and, if possible, use a wired connection rather than Wifi.
Demand for news
As demand for credible information about coronavirus has increased, there has been a surge in people turning to television news.
The BBC News channel has just recorded its biggest weekly audience since 2015, reaching 11.7m viewers – 70 per cent higher than its average in 2019.
Channel 4 News was watched on Saturday (14/3) by 78 per cent more people than the same slot attracted last year.
ITV is also recording audience increases across its output. On Tuesday (17/3), its 5pm bulletin was watched by 4.1m people – an 11 per cent increase on last year’s average.
And it is a similar picture for regional television news with the BBC reporting that its 10.30pm regional bulletin on Sunday (15/3) had an average audience across England of 4.5m, an increase of 44 per cent week-on-week and 49 per cent year-on-year.
So, what does this mean for you?
Well, all these programmes still need experts to interview – remotely of course. And they don’t just want to speak to people from the health sector.
Coronavirus is impacting every aspect of our lives and journalists are looking for experts to interview from every sector, whether it is how the manufacturing sector can meet the call to build ventilators, how supermarkets can cope with panic buying and ensure we all get food, or perhaps the impact advice and restrictions are having on pubs, clubs and restaurants.
Do you have spokespeople with recent media training who could step forward and offer their insight?
The coronavirus could be hugely damaging for the print industry, especially those newspapers that rely on commuters. Circulations are likely to plummet.
What that means in the long-term is unclear, but what you can expect to see is the readers of these publications increasingly turn to websites.
That means that print journalists will continue to need people to interview.
And those interviews are likely to take place over the telephone.
This is something we have seen more of over recent years and it has become an increasingly key part of our media training courses. We will be using this format even more over the coming weeks and months.
Here are a few telephone interview tips from our courses.
They can make it much harder for the journalist to hear what you are saying, increasing your chances of being misquoted.
Don’t take them lightly
Many spokespeople fall into the trap of believing telephone interviews to be the easiest interview format. After all, you can’t see the reporter, you are not in front of a television camera and you are not about to go live on the radio airwaves. This casual approach can lead them to treat it as just another phone call in their busy day and not prepare thoroughly. In our experience, journalists often find it easier to be tougher and more aggressive with interviewees on the phone than they do face-to-face.
This will help add extra energy and enthusiasm to your voice. This is a tactic often used by salespeople and rings true for media spokespeople as well.
Many spokespeople automatically carry out telephone interviews from their desks. The danger here is distraction. Whether it is emails, notifications on your mobile or work on your desk, there are many factors that could cause you to momentarily lose concentration and focus.
Journalists know that a bit of silence during a phone interview can make spokespeople feel uncomfortable. They are taught to ‘embrace the silence’ because they know many interviewees feel compelled to end this awkwardness by talking. Often, they end up moving away from their messages and saying something they did not intend to say. Don’t fall into this trap.
The faster you speak the harder it is for a reporter to keep up with and accurately record what you are saying. This could mean your key message goes unreported, while your chances of being misquoted are also increased. So, don’t rush through your responses. Slow it down, and pause for emphasis on key points.
As ever, we are here to support you and help you meet these changes. Get in contact with your account manager and they will design a course to meet your needs and requirements.
Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers.