What To Ask The Media
by Joreth Innkeeper © 2007
When a member of the media contacts you for an interview, you should know that you are interviewing them too. Just like a job interview, it's important that both sides are happy with each other and both sides get something of value from the interaction. There are plenty of unscrupulous or sensationalist reporters out there who are more than willing to take advantage of people's naiveté of how the industry works. So you need to know a few things about the media representative before you agree to participate in a media event. These questions can be asked during the initial email exchange, or verbally, before an official interview is scheduled. You might want to keep these questions as a checklist and write down their answers if you ask them verbally.
What names will be used?
Does the reporter want to use real names and images like photo or video? Or will they allow the use of first name only, psuedonyms and protected visual identity? Just a note - the more willing you are to use your full real name and show your face, the more willing the media will be to use you in their story, so consider that when asking this question.
What is the time frame?
You should find out all the related deadlines, such as when the piece is due to be finished and when it is due to be made public. This will help you to coordinate your interviews better around your schedule but still in time for their deadlines. It will also suggest to you if this is a rush piece and how much attention the reporter might have to give to you and collect all the relevant information.
What are some other shows that you/the company has produced?
This is very important for you to learn before you agree to give your interview. You want to know who this person works for and what kind of reputation this person and/or this company has. If the producer assures you that they want to do a fair and unbaised look at alternative lifestyles, but you find out that all the shows they've ever produced are Jerry Springer and Springer spin-offs, you can be sure that this producer is not on the level and it is probably in your best interests not to participate. But if they have a reputation for respectful reporting, especially if you can find examples of their past work, then you can be a little more confident that this media will not take horrible advantage of you.
Is the concept entertainment or information?
Find out if they are going to focus more on entertainment value or imparting information. Is this a journalistic piece or is this an entertainment show?
What is the format of the piece?
This would be a documentary, a reality show, an interview, a news article, a news interview for television, a talk show, an online article or blog, a lecture or presentation, an anecdote for a book, a survey for an academic research piece, etc. This will also help to answer the previous question of entertainment vs. information. Some formats are naturally more sensationalist than others, so you will want to know exactly what they intend to do with this interview.
What kind of time comittment?
What kind of time is the media event asking of you? Will this be a short, 30 minute phone interview? Will there be a follow-up interview? Will you be meeting in person somewhere? Where? Will it require 24 camera coverage over a period of days? Will it be one day of taping in the studio? If it's a reality TV show or similar project, find out if they expect or desire to follow you to work, and then make sure you have permission from your employer before agreeing. If it's an interview by phone or in person, double the estimated time frame, because you will probably spend a lot of time educating the reporter before ever getting to the questions.
What is the compensation?
Media events that are entertainment-based should offer compsenation in the form of travel expenses, and sometimes financial incentives. If you are being interviewed for a news article, there will probably be no offer of compensation, but they should be willing to at least call you on their dime. If the event is a talk show or similar entertainment venue where you have to travel to them, they should take care of your travel expenses and hotel arrangements, possibly even a per diem, which is money to spend on food and incidentals. If the event is a reality TV show, TV pilot, documentary, or other event that will follow you for a significant period of time and/or will be made for profit (i.e. sold to a network or production company), you should be compensated for your time, just as actors in TV shows are compensated (but probably not nearly as well). The amount of compensation will vary, but as this will probably interfere with your ability to work and significantly interrupt your lives, make sure it at least makes up for any lost wages.
Who are some of the other participants?
Ask who some of the other people are who have been interviewed or are scheduled to participate. This is another good clue to tell you how trustworthy they are. If they mention notable names of people in the poly community that you trust, or people you know personally who you can call and compare notes, you can feel a little more secure in working with this media group. Also, if you find out that you know some of the other participants personally, the reporter might be interested in a group interview or online conference call, or even coming along on a social outing to see how everyone gets along together.
What is the purpose or story or angle or direction of this piece?
You want to know what the purpose of the story is. You should know if the reporter plans to do a fluff piece, something sensational to titillate the readers or viewers with steamy sex scandals, or if they want to educate the public on legitimate alternative lifestyle options. Is the reporter going to focus on the sexual arrangements or are they more interested in compersion? Do they want to know more about the logistics of scheduling with multiple adults? Do they want to know about how the children handle having several parents? Do they want to scare their audience with the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases or emotional infidelity? Do they want to cover polyamory from a feminist perspective? Ask the reporter or the producer or whomever is contacting you to tell you more about the focus of the story and what they've learned about polyamory so far.
What do you understand about polyamory?
Ask the reporter what their view of polyamory is, or what they have learned so far since beginning research for their piece. This will give you some clues as to the tone of the piece. Also, it will give you an indication of how much of the basics you will have to teach before you even get to your own story.
What kinds of poly families are you looking for/focusing on?
Ask what kinds of poly families the reporter is most interested in focusing on. This will tell you, not only if you are right for this piece, but also how much teaching of the basics you will have to do before you start. Even if you do not fit into the category they are looking for, this can be a valuable opportunity to educate the reporter on some of the misconceptions they probably have.
The most common thing reporters start out looking for are "couples who have opened their relationship". Since there are so many different types of poly familes and groups, you can take the opportunity this question gives you to tell the reporter that there are many different types of poly families and asking for "couples" will limit the number of poly people willing or able to participate. You can also indicate to them that remaining in the couple-centric mindset (or whatever group they insist on looking for) is sort of at cross-purposes to being polyamorous. After all, the point of polyamory is "more than one".
Know Your Own Goals
Have some goals in mind when you are interviewing interviewers. Know what kinds of media events you are willing to partcipate in and what kind you're not, and why. What will you acheive by being quoted in this story or spending time giving the reporter background information? If you gain nothing, is this a reporter worth helping out to develop a good relationship with for the future, or is the story likely to be harmful?
Come up with a "poly agenda". Pick one or two narrow poly topics that you want to make sure you mention, no matter what. Your agenda is your goal or goals, the things that you want to achieve. This is the reason you do media work. You will use your agenda to craft your message, which is the theme that runs through all of your individual talking points. You will be asked lots of different questions, but you should have a single unifying theme that runs through all your answers.
For instance, is it important to you to emphasize sexual safety? Or do you want to focus on stable familes? Do you want to make sure you talk about the diversity of poly arrangements? You might need to emphasize and reiterate the fact that stable and healthy relationships, even poly ones, are relatively drama free, so if the reporter is looking for people who will get into jealous rages and start breaking chairs, he is looking into the wrong lifestyle.
These kinds of things should come up during your pre-screening process and will help you to determine if this particular media event is right for you. Be firm with the reporters and producers. Make sure you are clear that this initial dialog is not the interview, but the negotiation process for the interview. Then, at the end of this conversation (either verbally or written, such as through email), you can officially schedule the date and time for your interview.
The Goals section was influenced by the Media Training from Sex Work Awareness.
© PMA 2008