Car crash interviews

Car crash interviews

Newsnight is more known for reporting the news than making it but, thanks to Paxman’s notorious interview techniques, it has a habit of making headlines of its own. Tuesday’s edition was looking like another run-of-the-mill round up of the day’s news until Chloe Smith, economic secretary to the treasury and the government’s youngest minister, stepped up to the table (from 6 mins 10 secs).

Questioned by Paxman about a U-turn on fuel duty, announced earlier that day by the chancellor, she committed pretty much all of the cardinal sins of a media appearance. She froze, stuttered, repeated herself and appeared completely incapable of producing anything resembling a straight answer.

Underprepared and unable to expand beyond a one line brief, she was destined to become the latest addition to a long line of politicians who have turned an innocuous topic into a major headline as a result of a car crash interview.

Here at Journalista we feel rather sorry for Ms Smith. Osbourne should have either appeared himself to defend the move or at least given his understudy enough information to suitably defend his supine approach to policy formation.

The redoubtable Mr Paxman also appeared to be in a somewhat bullish mood. Perhaps Smith was a victim of his inability to think of any more questions.

Indeed, years after the infamous interview with then home secretary, Michael Howard, Jezza admitted that his repetition of the question ‘did you threaten to overrule him?’ was a way to kill time after a producer told him to extend the interview.

Now these two were probably a bit unlucky to have come up against our most formidable broadcaster having one of those days. Nonetheless, you must be prepared for anything so here’s Journalista’s key tips to keeping bloodthirsty Paxman-types at bay:

  • Send the right person. Don’t palm off a journalist with a junior representative. If they want to listen to your point of view on a topic then should show them the respect of sending someone with the authority to comment.
  • Be prepared. Know the subject matter you are being interviewed on inside out. Even if, in Smith’s case, you find out the same day.
  • Be direct. The more you evade a subject the more the journalist will want to know what you have to hide. If it’s something you simply can’t comment on, just say so.
  • Engage with the question. Politicians have a habit of using and input from the interviewer as a cue to to spout a pre-prepared monologue, epitomised by Henry Kissinger when he said “does anyone have any questions for my answers?”.

Alternatively you could mirror the approach of a certain Dizzee Rascal. But then few of us are lucky enough to have clients that are that cool in the spotlight are we?

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