Why ITN newsreader got it wrong

According to ITN newsreader Alastair Stewart, media training is all about teaching spokespeople to evade questions.

The broadcasting veteran took to his Twitter account recently to have a bit of a rant about media training.

And he presented a very simplistic view.

Here’s what he said:

Let’s put the first tweet down as cheap shot and instead take a closer look at his more detailed second Tweet.

Let me be very clear here. Good media training is certainly NOT about evading the question. On our courses we always tell delegates they cannot ignore questions they don’t like and simply talk about their key message. It is vital they address, and if possible answer, the question they have been asked before, if appropriate, moving on and trying to steer the agenda of the interview.

Let’s take a quick trip down memory lane and see how ignoring the question worked out for BlackBerry when it twice delayed launching its latest smartphone:

Not great huh? So, rule one - don’t ignore the journalists’ questions. They are, after all, only asking the questions that they feel their audience wants answers to.

When Mr Stewart talks about ‘deviation’ we assume he is referring to the bridging technique. This is a skill which, when used successfully, enables the interviewee to move the conversation on to something else (the ‘distraction’ in his terms) – but the key here is that the technique itself works by first acknowledging and answering the question that the journalist asks you.

And it is technique journalists themselves acknowledge can enhance an interview. Off the back of his own interview with the BlackBerry boss, Nicky Campbell from Radio 5 Live, Tweeted:

Mr Stewart's reference to the clothes a spokesperson wears is frankly a bit silly. There are very good reasons why certain clothes and types of jewellery should be avoided in television interviews. It’s in no-ones interests to cause a strobing effect by wearing narrow stripes, while long dangling earrings could easily distract a viewer from what either the journalist or spokesperson is saying.

I’d be very surprised if Mr Stewart has gone through his whole career without giving thought or being offered professional advice on what he should wear when on TV.

But the biggest failing of Mr Stewart’s tweets is that they fail to acknowledge the role media training plays in improving the confidence levels of spokespeople. We often find that no matter how confident or experienced a public speaker someone is, they struggle to get their messages across when put in front of a TV camera or microphone, or just a determined journalist on the hunt for a story.

The reason is simple – there’s nothing in your normal working life which will prepare you for it, besides media training.

Nerves can be a great hindrance in an interview and just imagine how anxious someone would be if they had not had any prior exposure to the media or training, particularly if they found themselves fronting a crisis response.

It is in a journalist’s interests to interview a confident and coherent spokesperson as it produces better content for the viewing and listening public.

'It's in a journalist’s interests to intvw a confident and coherent spokesperson' via @mediafirstltd http://bit.ly/2e4jy1q

Good media training also helps spokespeople to sound authentic and simplifies their language so messages are easier to understand.

It also enables spokespeople to spot and avoid journalists’ tricks and traps, like putting words in the spokesperson’s mouth and getting drawn into speculation.

Which brings me nicely on to Mr Stewart’s final tweet.

I'm not sure whether Mr Stewart thinks it is ok to say 'I don't know'. However, there is absolutely nothing wrong with admitting you don’t know the answer to a particular question. It is a far better option than guessing or speculating, which can have dangerous consequences.

But, it is important not to lose credibility by adding a phrase like 'I'm no expert'. And, if you are going to say that you don't know the answer to a specific question, make sure you back it up by telling the audience what you do know.



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. 


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