March 2, 2010

If a reporter calls...don’t hang up!

In the agriculture world today of social media, new technology and reporters wanting to learn more, being prepared for a potential interview is crucial. If a reporter calls...don't hang up! This may give them the impression that we don't want them to know something about agriculture. An interview gives farmers and ranchers a voice for agriculture, the chance to tell our great story, and the ability to express food production as being transparent and open. However, an interview-gone-bad could give consumers a negative image of the food we produce and the way we farm.

Last week, I had the opportunity to participate in a media training with the Nebraska Cattlemen as part of their Young Cattlemen Conference. The purpose of this media training was to prepare producers to be ready in the event that a radio, TV or newspaper reporter comes to the farm and wants to ask questions. They even put me on camera to see how I would do under pressure!

I learned some great tips and want to share them:

Before the interview:
  • Get to know the reporter
    • Read their previous stories. Do they tend to write positively or negatively towards agriculture?
  • Ask them what they’ll be interviewing you about
    • You don’t want to assume they’ll be asking you about your feeding practices when in the middle of the interview they bring up using growth promotants or E. Coli, topics you’re not prepared to answer.
    • Also, ask them their deadline. This can give you more or less time to think.  
  • Prepare message points.
    • Message points are what you want the audience to hear. Choose facts, examples, analogies and anecdotes that will support your story.
    • For example, if the reporter wants to interview you on production practices, answer his/her questions by always going back to the point that your family farm works and cares for your livestock, grows safe crops and are producing safe food for consumers.
  • Anticipate what questions the reporter may ask – easy or tough – and prepare answers ahead of time.
  • Never conduct an interview “on the fly.”
    • When a reporter calls and wants to do an interview over the phone, ask to call him/her right back, or set a time in which to conduct the interview.
  • Set a time limit for interviews and conduct them at a place on your operation that will look good on television (if for TV interviews).
The interview:
  • Remember, this is a chance to tell your story. Answer the reporter’s questions and move on to what message you’re there to portray.
  • Bridge to your messages with simple connecting phrases:
    • “Yes, but that’s only part of the story…”
    • “I’m not the best person to answer this question, but what I do know is…”
  • Flag reporters to key messages with attention-getting phrases:
    • “The bottom line is…”
    • “The most important thing is…”
  • Deliver messages followed by the key facts and example of your personal story.
  • Use language that a consumer understands.
    • Example: Instead of, “our operation” which makes some consumers think of a cow on a surgery table, say, "our family farm/ranch.”
  • Be yourself and show your pride and passion for agriculture and the safe food and products we produce for consumers.
It’s never too early to get prepared for an interview. Do you feel you could answer questions right now on irrigation and water use in Nebraska? Or the benefits of feeding corn co-products, such as distillers grains, to livestock? Or the use of high fructose corn syrup in foods?

Getting a handle on these topics will help prepare you for a future interview and will give agriculture the voice it needs here in Nebraska and across the country.

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