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Wikimedia Foundation/Communications/Resource center/Press/Having an effective interview with a reporter

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Communications Resource Center

Sharing knowledge on Wikimedia communications — Please add!

Recruiting volunteers to be interviewed[edit]

  • Informing the community for the media outreach opportunity on the local Village Pump is "the wiki way" of doing it, but since this is asynchronous and often non-personally-addressed communication, it may not work well in urgent cases.
  • In such cases, checking the Recent changes for editors who are currently online and fit within the expected profile, is the better tactics.
  • Another option is to contact the spokespersons via a social network, like a Facebook group. People tend to check their Facebook quite often and get immediate personal notifications.
  • Do not procrastinate, media are in a hurry. Define strict deadlines, but also encourage participation.

Start with the basics[edit]

  • Many people don’t know how Wikipedia works. Bear in mind some key facts:
    • Anyone can edit! It’s made by people like you and me
    • 75,000 monthly volunteer contributors around the world
    • In many languages
    • Nonprofit with dozens of community organizations

Arm yourself with statistics[edit]

  • Even when they do not understand them, journalists LOVE numbers. Experience shows that journalists often approach Wikipedians for interviews, without making their preliminary research on the topic, or they have some vague / fragmentary / biased ideas of the community that stays behind Wikipedia. Almost always, especially when this is their first encounter with a Wikipedian, they want to clarify their vague idea, so they want some quantitative, measurable and tangible orientations, i.e. numbers. Almost always they ask about the number of people in the community, and are often stricken with awe when they learn how little number of active volunteers actually keep in running, compared to the enormous number of users.

Do your research[edit]

  • Try to get to know the reporter a little bit before the interview if possible. What do they tend to write about? What’s their writing style and tone like? How much do they know about Wikipedia and the Wikimedia movement already?
  • Research their publication to get a feel for the publication’s audience. Do they primarily report on technology stories? Stories about people (human interest)? A particular city or region? This will help you understand what questions the reporter might ask, or how they may represent Wikipedia and the movement.

Have a clear main message — state it early and often[edit]

  • Keep that clear main message in mind throughout the interview, and don’t be afraid to refer back to it multiple times to make sure your audience remembers that main point or message.
  • Keep answers short and simple. Don’t feel like you have to keep talking to fill in gaps or moments of silence.
  • Relax! Sometimes, a few words are more powerful than a lengthy, rambling response.

Be honest, be credible, be yourself[edit]

  • Be honest. Back up your statements with examples if possible.
  • Talk about what you know — avoid speaking about something you’re not familiar with.
  • If you don’t know the answer to a question, don’t be afraid to say you’ll get back to the interviewer, or will refer the question to another colleague or editor who might be more experienced in that subject area.

Share examples, and tell stories[edit]

  • A well-told personal story, or another real life example, is almost always more powerful than a statistic. Try to relate what you’re saying to something you’ve experienced.
  • If you are going to use a statistic, make sure you use only one -- and that it strongly supports your main message.
  • Back up abstract ideas and messages with a clear example that illustrates the point you’re trying to make. These can also allow you to speak more openly with the reporter.

Keep it simple[edit]

  • Keep things simple for the reporter. Think Wiki 101. If the reporter needs additional clarification and resources on complicated topics, send more info if you think it would be helpful.
  • Bear in mind that topics that seem second-nature to you may not be familiar to others. Try to avoid using jargon or technical terms, even something like “API” or “SSL”. If you do use a technical term, offer a quick explanation of the term you’re referring to. (Unless of course, you’re speaking with a tech reporter).

Bring a laptop (in the best case, one with wiki stickers all over the lid)[edit]

  • In addition to bringing a laptop, try to and arrange the meeting in a free wi-fi zone. You will not only be able to answer to specific questions and show statistics that require access to Wikipedia/Wikimedia, but the journalist will take with pleasure a photo of you editing Wikipedia in real time on your wiki-nerdish machine.

Practice, practice, practice[edit]

  • Brainstorm questions the reporter might ask ahead of time, and practice answers to these questions.
  • Get warmed up! Ask a friend or colleague to help out and ask you questions right before your interview, so you’re already in the right frame of mind.
  • Have a few examples or facts ready to back up the message you want to get across, but stay focused on your clear main message.

Try to form long-lasting relationships with journalists[edit]

  • Some journalists, especially from monthly and weekly printed media, do not suffer from limitations of time, and they can spend much more time interviewing you and exploring Wikipedia. Once they finish with their list of top-of-mind evergreen questions, they may already be so enthralled that you may propose some form of longer lasting collaboration.
  • For instance, you may plan together the next interview in relation to the Wikipedia Day, 15 January, or the birthday of your local version of Wikipedia, or a forthcoming Wikimania, or some other regionally significant wiki event. Journalists love to have particular occasions, as this increases the chances for their material to get published and make it through the intensive newsfeed.
  • You can propose a series of publications or interviews that give a detailed overview of the multifaceted topic of Wikipedia (more probable with radio, print media, online media).
  • You can suggest a content–donation collaboration, where their media releases in Commons some part of their multimedia database under a compatible free license. It is reasonable to propose such an idea, only provided that a positive relationship has already been formed not only with the individual journalist, but also with some other media representatives from the hierarchy above him/her.

Make your own recording of the interview[edit]

This helps in many ways.

  • First, you will have a record of the interview, even if for some reason the media refuses or forgets to provide you with their copy.
  • Second, study your behavior retroactively, and try to define and correct your weaknesses and mistakes.
  • Third, applicable mainly to printed media: Place your audio recording device on the table right next to the journalist's one, and do not make your recording secretly. When the journalist is aware that you have your own copy of the interview, when preparing their text, they will be especially careful to not alter your words in a way that you cannot recognize them. You too have a proof of what exactly has been said.

Ask to review the text before publication[edit]

  • Especially if it is the journalist's first interaction with the wiki world, there will inevitably be many words and concepts, which we, Wikimedians, use on a daily basis, but which have remained unclear for the journalist. Kindly ask for permission to have a look at the material prior to its publication, and be ready for any reaction between the offended refusal and the grateful consent.
  • Some journalists may feel their freedom of speech threatened upon such a request, or may excuse with the argument of adhering to their media's editorial policy. Make sure that you request it only for the purpose of verifying the wiki terminology, and do not introduce significant changes, unless you have explicitly agreed upon this possibility with the journalist.