Media training: That 'so what you are saying is...' interview and how to avoid it

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That 'so what you are saying is...' interview and how to avoid it

You may have noticed some recent interviews where the journalist uses a phrase like ‘what you are saying is…’ and then provides a summary of what the spokesperson has just said.

It is something we have seen more of recently in television interviews.

In fact, it was used so regularly in one recent interview that the phrase has generated its own series of memes.

So we asked Emma Nelson, one of our current working journalist tutors, to look at why a reporter might end up saying ‘so what you are saying is…’ to your spokesperson.



Whether you agree with her or not, you’ve got to feel for the journalist Cathy Newman. Her thirty minute-long bout on Channel 4 with the clinical psychologist Jordan Paterson has become irresistible fodder for online commentators.

But what’s emerged as the highlight of the interview hasn’t been the content of the interview but Cathy Newman’s repeated use of the expression ‘so what you’re saying is...’.


Cathy Newman meme.JPG


It’s been clipped up, mashed up and spat out in various forms all over the internet.

As a result, the focus has become less on what was said and more on how it was said.



So what led to ‘so you’re saying’ becoming the main issue in a pretty high fibre debate?

A hefty accusation thrown at Cathy Newman is, that by constantly using ‘so what you’re saying’ as a way to start a question, she was ‘straw-manning’ Jordan Paterson: trying to misrepresent what he was saying in order to make it easier to score points against him. 

Perhaps she’d fallen into the trap of getting too involved in personal point-scoring. Or maybe she was simply trying to take control of an interview she knew might not make much sense to her audience.

Here are some possible reasons why a journalist might end up saying ‘so what you’re saying is’ and how an interviewee can make sure it never happens to them.


The double take

“So you’re saying Grandma’s buried in the back garden?”

A journalist may just have been told something revelatory, or shocking that has taken them totally by surprise.

“So what you’re saying” may just be a polite way of asking the interviewee to confirm what the journalist has been told.

It’s a fact-checking move.

Avoid nasty surprises by preparing your message and learning how to stay on message and not reveal something you weren’t planning to divulge.


Clarity, not pedantry

“I’m very, very, very careful with my words” is something Mr Paterson said when things reached a sticky point in the interview with Ms Newman.

Paterson’s language is famous for being peppered with what some reviewers have called ‘forbidding phrases’.

He is a stickler for accuracy and in the Channel 4 news interview we heard the likes of ‘multi-varied equations’, ‘variants’, and ‘flatness of distribution’.

Watch the interview and you’ll spot that the gooier Paterson’s language became, the more Ms Newman said ‘so what you’re saying is...’.  

She became the translator for her television audience. One could almost hear her internal monologue shouting ‘what the hell is this man trying to tell us?’

Load up your messages with jargon and you’ll find yourself having to translate what you’ve just said into plain English. And if you don’t translate it then the journalist will paraphrase this for you into an audience friendly language. 

'Load up your messages with jargon and you’ll find yourself having to translate what you’ve just said into plain English' via @mediafirstltd

For example, a statement along the lines of ‘we’re striving across all platforms to improve patient outcomes going forward’ will be met with the reply ‘so what you’re saying is every part of your hospital is trying to make sure people get better more quickly?’.

As we say on our media training courses, ‘keep it clear and direct and the audience get what you mean’. An interview is not the place to show off with complex words that could leave others confused.


An interview isn’t a battle – it’s a race against time

After the interview, Paterson told another radio station he’d become ‘the hypothetical villain of Newman’s imagination’ during the interview.

Whatever that may mean, there’s no doubt that both he and Ms Newman gave each other a bloody nose. And 'so you’re saying' became a pretty blunt instrument.

You can avoid this by not engaging with an aggressive line of questioning: when they go low, you go high. Remember to stay calm and keep the interview conversational.

'Don't engage with an aggressive line of questioning. Stay calm and keep the interview conversational' via @mediafirstltd

But pushing an interviewee is also a practical tool used by journalists to make their guests get to the point. Only five of the thirty minute Paterson/Newman interview made it on to Channel Four News.

Ms Newman knew they needed a pithy exchange to make the cut. Faced with expressions such as ‘compelled speech dictates’, she had a tough job on her hands.


It’s just something she said

Perhaps Cathy Newman was unaware that she was laying the foundation for a new late night drinking game called “so you’re saying’. Whatever her reasons, I suspect she won’t be saying it (as) much on air again.  


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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