— Dealing with Media Approaches
By Chris Turner
All astrologers at some point in their working lives will be approached by the media for some kind of comment. All of us, whether we are willing to admit it or not, are flattered that our opinion is sought and that we will get public exposure. However if you jump in without knowing the terrain you are jumping into, almost certainly you will do yourself – and astrology – damage which could take a long time to repair.
So here are a few guidelines to consider when approached by that charming TV/radio/newspaper producer or reporter. Interviews are a minefield. The journalist is after only one thing – something that will attract attention – and s/he doesn’t care how s/he gets it. The bottom line is that all media is there not to keep people abreast of what is happening in the world as you might think, but to make a profit for the publisher. If the truth will attract sales – so be it. But if in the publisher’s opinion, the truth is not interesting enough, the publisher, via the editor, will have no compunction in changing that truth to what s/he thinks will sell.
- The first and most important rule when doing an interview is don’t, unless you are confident with what you are doing.
- Only do live interviews; nothing that is going to be edited until you know you are not going to put your foot into your mouth inadvertently. You would be shocked to see how cleverly something you say can be made to sound quite different with clever editing.
The usual print media for interviews is the newspaper. Magazines in general like to have articles. Many of them will tape an interview over the phone. Newspaper interviews are always edited, not only for content, but space as well.
- The more “tabloid” a newspaper is, the more I would suggest you refuse to do it. You will be misquoted or taken out of context. The more tabloid the publication, the more sensationalism they are after, and the more they will sensationalise what you say. The more “legitimate” a news publication it is, the more they are likely only to edit you for space rather than content. In this case you are most likely to be taken out of context, but not necessarily misquoted.
- A good interviewer is charming, friendly and sympathetic. In two minutes they will disarm you into thinking s/he is totally sympathetic, and no way would s/he misquote you or make you – or astrology – sound silly. The journalist may be genuine, but the odds are s/he isn’t. Remain wary and conscious of everything you say no matter what. Never say anything “off the cuff”.
- No matter how much you are pressured, even nicely, don’t make specific statements, even off the record. Nothing is off the record. You are always better off understating a situation than over stating it. It helps to be skilled at steering the conversation around to where you want it to go – but remember the reporter is just as skilled at this if not more so.
- Don’t be defensive. No matter how much the interviewer goes on the attack (and the skilled ones won’t) stay confident, agree with them if they are right, (that throws them off balance) and just think of him or her as someone who you are trying to teach the principles of astrology. The minute you show any hostility or defensiveness, they have the ammunition to show you and astrology in a bad light. Think of the newspaper interview as a tennis match, where both of you are lobbying the ball, until one of you sneaks a point under the other’s nose.
- Know what you are talking about and make sure the interviewer knows it too. If what prompts the interview is an astronomical phenomenon, a political election, or the outcome of a horse race, make sure you have done your homework before the interview. And then be honest. If you don’t know the answer to a question – say so. Don’t try and guess, because if you are wrong, every astrologer in the country will know about it in 5 minutes, and in these days of the internet, the whole world will know in 10 minutes.
Of the three, radio is probably the friendliest of the three media. If you are interviewed it will probably be for a human interest or talk-back program.
- If possible always try to do your interview live, either by phone or by going in to the studio. The best is definitely going in to the studio, as there is no chance of being edited, and this means the interview will be at least 5 to 10 minutes. Generally however, for a 5 minute and under interview, commercial stations particularly prefer to do it by ‘phone. This is not a problem at all if it is done as a live interview.
- If it is a taped interview, to be broadcast as a human interest piece on the evening news, you will be edited. Your 5 minute interview will be cut down to two to five seconds, so what you say will be taken out of context.
- If it is a taped interview be very careful not to say anything even as a throw-away line that isn’t accurate or have integrity, because you could find it is only those 5 words that are quoted.
TV journalists seem to be the worst of the lot for twisting and manipulating stories. The best interviews are those that are done live, but these are rare. They usually occur with magazine/variety shows and when there is something in the news regarding astrology. The most common is a human interest piece for a news magazine or current affairs program. These are usually taped during the day and shown that night. You will get a phone call to set up a time, and the reporter duly arrives complete with camera crew, or you meet at a chosen location such as the local observatory.
- If they arrive at your home or your office, the first thing they will want to do is rearrange all your furniture, and perhaps ask you to produce posters or books for background shots. The whole thing takes about an hour to 90 minutes, and if you are lucky, two minutes of it will be shown. And I can promise you it won’t be the two minutes when you were at your brilliant best, or the two minutes that you cleverly got in that sublime piece of wisdom.
- Make sure you look good. The reporter will. You don’t want him or her to show you up if possible. Men should wear a suit which makes you look credible. Women should wear a nice top at least, and please, even if you never touch make-up, make sure you have some eye liner and lipstick on, and that your hair is out of your face. The lights will wash out your colour, and show up every blemish, so a concealer stick isn’t a bad idea either. No need to overdo it, just emphasise lips and eyes and look neat. Not too much jewelry which can be distracting.
- It is not politically correct to say so, but the simpler and smarter you look – the more like an ordinary person you look – the more credible you will appear. Even an excellent astrologer, if she appears with an armload of silver bracelets, black nail polish, long flowing hair a flowing white dress and eyes that are all kohl, will not be taken seriously. She may attract a “new age” client, but the rest of the astrology community will cringe, the skeptics will chortle, and in the end you will not have done yourself or astrology any favours.
- If you are asked to take part in a special program on astrology, always ask to vet the final program. This is where a great deal of editing license takes place. I once did a segment with an astronomer to open such a special. The astronomer and I hit it off very well, and I agreed with 90% of what he said. It was the 10% I disagreed with that they cut into the program, and the editing made it look as though I was challenging him at every turn. The final product nowhere near resembled what was actually filmed.
- Never say anything on camera or in front of a microphone that you wouldn’t want your peers to hear. Keep that uppermost in your mind throughout the entire interview. Stay professional and focused and you will be just fine.