Advice from a freelance arts hack

Written by: Fiona Gruber
For this month’s LOWENSTEINS ARTS newsletter I’ve been asked to write a piece about the best way to prepare for a media interview; I acknowledge the irony in the timing, given that most people in the creative industries have never been so challenged or so un-interviewed, except for the odd story of career blight and dreams dashed.
I’ll start off by acknowledging that being grilled by a journalist is an often toe-curling experience. The interrogation can be banal, intrusive or seemingly totally irrelevant and afterwards you think “I could have said that better, I forget to say X or WHY did I give them that anecdote?” Hopefully you’ve experienced good ones too, who ask thoughtful, well researched questions.
Live interviews on TV or radio can be the most daunting and it’s not a bad idea to prepare, even rehearse a few concise points about the event or story you’re communicating. It’s fine to ask the interviewer for a few subject pointers beforehand. But keep your delivery natural.
It’s also good to know how long the piece to air will be. It’s no good launching into a story that takes five-minutes to tell, if the entire segment is two minutes. The punchy soundbite is the one that will get played.
Similarly, for both print and broadcast, think about how best to present your work to a general public, unless you’re being interviewed for a specialist program or publication, where you can be more erudite.
For longer features, think about the bigger picture, the people who have helped make your project happen, those germane anecdotes that illustrate broader aspects of the topic, anything witty or moving or thought-provoking, that will keep the reader, watcher or listener hooked.
If possible, imagine the journalist is a friend you’re having a warm and enthusiastic chat with. Given the shallow realities of today’s media, imagine that friend has attention deficit disorder.
Finally, do trust the instincts and experience of your publicist if you have one. Streamline the story with them and make sure they know all the story “hooks” that will catch the eyes of editors and producers.
Having written the above, it does sound a bit glib. Some of my most memorable interviews have been with hesitant, sometimes tongue-tied artists. The interview may take a couple of hours, but spending time with creative people and hearing about their work is usually a huge pleasure as is taking time to build a relationship and delving below the surface.
The best conversations are always face to face. Hardly ever on Zoom. It might have been a lifeline for so many professions but it’s hard to improve on the tinny sound and the bedroom pallor of so many screen encounters. When I’m interviewing for print, if I can’t meet in person, I far prefer to phone them; people are often more open when they don’t have to keep eye contact.
Finally, I’d like to make the point that as a freelance journalist, my career might have taken a bit of a dent in the past year and a half but it’s the fine creative people in the arts who have been doing it really tough and I salute them.
Fiona Gruber is an arts journalist in print and audio. She writes for many publications including the Guardian the Australian and the Times Literary Supplement and her work appears frequently on ABC Radio National.