The Media
Chapter 3

Checklist: Conducting Interviews With the Media

The most successful media interviews happen because of advance planning. If you know beforehand what points you want to get across, you are more likely to have a positive experience with the media. The following tips can help.

Articulate the most crucial information in every interview. Before you set up an interview, be sure you are ready. Be prepared to discuss information pertinent to the case—but be sure that law enforcement has been consulted about what information can be released and what should remain confidential. Give essential information consistently to everyone in the media, especially the following items:

  • Pictures of your child, in both black and white and color, if possible.

  • A description of the clothing your child was wearing and of the items your child had in his or her possession, such as a book bag, backpack, or bicycle, along with identifying characteristics and personal traits.

  • A telephone number for people to call in leads.

Ask that your child’s picture be included in every interview you grant. This is crucial because often the only thing that is clearly known is what your child looks like. Make sure that the picture given to the media resembles your child and is suitable for distribution. Always hold up a picture of your child during an interview and insist that his or her face be shown as part of the story. Ask radio stations to include a description of your child as part of their story.

Limit the number of points you want to make and keep them simple. Organize your thoughts and ideas, perhaps by writing them down, before you speak to an interviewer. Stay as calm and focused as you can. Remember that you will be given a very small amount of air time. That means that the more you say, the less control you will have over what portion of an interview the media will play.

Try to cover the most important points first and to contain your answers to 10- to 20-second “sound bites.” Short answers are more likely to be used than long, drawn-out answers. Also, if you try to cover too much, you may find that your most important points are left out of the story.

Make your child real by sharing stories that show his or her wit, interests, and other endearing qualities. If you personalize your plea by showing favorite toys, telling short anecdotes, and airing representative videotapes of your child, people are more apt to listen and remember and to feel they have a reason to care about your plight. However, don’t loan any original items to the media because you may not get them back. Always label your child’s pictures, videos, and possessions.

Keep control of the story. Be prepared to field difficult questions. Although many reporters have families and will empathize with you, their job is to give the public an interesting story. Some may appear to be skeptical of you—at least initially—because of well-publicized disappearances in which the parents turned out to be the culprits.

Regardless of the questions asked, keep the story focused on your missing child. If a reporter digs a skeleton out of your closet, don’t be afraid to say that a previous event has nothing to do with the present disappearance. You may need to point out that members of the same family can be totally different in terms of behavior, academic performance, and emotional maturity.

Be patient with reporters because many of them may be young and inexperienced. It is difficult for someone who is not yet a parent to imagine what you are going through. If you are asked an inappropriate question, don’t answer it—and don’t explain why.

Do not lie to the media. If you are caught in a lie, reporters will never trust you again. But remember that you don’t have to answer every question. The only reason you are giving an interview is to find your child. You don’t have any obligation to help the media carry a story in a direction you don’t want it to go. If you believe a question is insensitive or irrelevant, either say so and decline to answer or else give the information you want to present regardless of the question that was asked. Take control of the situation. Make the points you have to make and insist on getting your message across.

Do not disclose information to the media that your law enforcement contact has told you to keep confidential. Consult with your law enforcement agency in advance to find out what information can be released and what information should remain private. Remember that there is no “off the record” comment. If reporters want confidential information, they will try to get it. Consider holding joint press conferences with law enforcement as a way to keep information flowing to the media yet protect confidential details.

Never publicly criticize law enforcement. Sometimes reporters ask questions intended to create controversy over law enforcement’s handling of a case. Resist the temptation to criticize law enforcement, however, even if you are unhappy with something that has been done. You want the story to be about your child, not about a controversy with law enforcement. You also don’t want to risk alienating the people who are spearheading the effort to find your child. Instead, channel any complaints you have through the appropriate law enforcement person or office.


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When Your Child Is Missing: A Family Survival Guide OJJDP Report • May 2004