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Brigade Media Tips

Talking to the media can be both exciting and a little scary. Here are a few pointers to staying on message and guiding an interview to success. We’re here to support Brigades to be successful in managing their own media requests, as well as helping Brigades know when to escalate requests to Code for America when needed.

Before the Interview

When you get a request for an interview, here are a few basics to line up ahead of time:

  • If it’s a top tier media outlet, let Jaime-Alexis** (ja@codeforamerica.org) know.** If a reporter reaches out directly from a top tier outlet, please loop in Jaime-Alexis right away. She can help with identifying messaging that highlights the work of your Brigade and the Code for America network.She will also be sure to share it from the CfA handle when it’s posted. [If Jaime-Alexis is unavailable, please contact, Zoe Blumenfeld (zoe@codeforamerica.org.]
  • Research the reporter before responding. You can do this yourself with a quick look at their Twitter feed. Seeing their recent work and tweets will help you understand a bit more about the reporter’s beat as well as the tone with which they might approach you.

  • Evaluate whether it’s worth it. You do not have to say yes to every media request. Will this move one of your goals forward? Do you have the time to be responsive? Will the outlet help you reach key audiences?

  • Think ahead. Write down one key message (or maybe 2-3) you want the reporter to walk away from the interview with. Have a story to back it up.

  • Practice.Whether with a core team member, or someone a home, practice saying your one message a few times along with the story.

Note: If you’re meeting a reporter in person, think about what you’ll wear. As a representative of your Brigade and the CfA network, a track jacket is great. Wear something comfortable and professional. If on camera, avoid white and patterns (again, track jacket is good option).

During the Interview

  • Respect. Approach the interview and the reporter with respect. This means being on time, prepared, and considerate during the interview.
  • Name, title. Reporters will want to verify your name and affiliation. State and spell your full name, and affiliation, as well as provide a business card if you have one (handy for follow-up).
  • Gauge what they know. The beginning of an interview is a good time to understand  how familiar they are with CfA and Brigades. Don’t assume they know much, or that what they know is accurate. Providing the mission, what Brigades are, and a reference to more information can be helpful.
  • Tell a story. Short, personal stories are great for kicking off an interview. Explain who you are, what you’re doing with your Brigade and by extension Code for America, and why you’re doing it (through a story) is a powerful way to provide background.

 

  • Be yourself. Frame your responses in what you know and who you are. Stick with what you know. Be honest about what you don’t.

  • i.e., “for me…”, “in my experience as a [volunteer, community member, designer]…”

  • i.e., “that’s a great question that’s not in my area of expertise, but I know another great person at Code for America/my Brigade who can speak to that…”

  • Know what you don’t know.It’s ok to say you don’t know. Don’t try to make up an answer. Suggest a resource or say you’ll follow up with person who knows. Follow up!

  • Remember your key message.Repeat it.

  • Keep answers short. A reporter is listening, taking notes, and often thinking of next question at the same time. Keep answers short, to the point. If radio or tv, respond by framing the answer.

  • i.e., if asked what Code for America is, instead of saying “it is…” say “Code for America is…”

  • Help a reporter out.Reporters are pressed for time and may not have prepared the best questions, the right questions, or have the best background information. Help them out by reframing a question or sharing a resource on a topic.

  • What happens in Slack or email stays in Slack or email. Unless otherwise noted, what happens in Code for America Slack channels and via email is not meant to be shared with journalists. Beyond these channels, please always check with your colleagues, “can I share this with a reporter?” before sharing stories or other information..

  • Nothing is ever “off the record.” Even if a reporter says it will be. Feel free to direct them to the appropriate person to handle the question.

Staying Cautious and Alert

If you feel like the reporter starts asking digging, tough, challenging, or otherwise combative questions, here are a few tips:

  • Ask for more time. You can always ask for a minute to gather your thoughts. Don’t feel pressured to respond immediately.

  • i.e., “great question, there are a lot of ways I can answer, let me think about that for a minute.”

  • Stay on message. Don’t let reporters lead you away from what you want to convey. Bring tough questions back to one of your key messages.

  • i.e., reporter asks, “so it seems like the city doesn’t really like your Brigade.” Possible response could be, “Code for ___ has really enjoyed working with the incredible community in [city] and our city partners….then share an example.”

  • Don’t repeat negative phrases.It’s easy to repeat part of a question in your response. If you hear a negative phrase or word, pause, take a breath, and think of a response that doesn’t include it.

  • i.e., reporter asks, “So and so said that all the apps Code for ___ creates are terrible…” Don’t say: Code for ___ apps are not terrible, they are… Instead say, “Code for ___ build apps in partnership with…”

Follow up

After the interview, it’s nice to follow up with the reporter. A few things to keep in mind:

  • Thank you email. A quick thank you email with any additional resources you may have mentioned during the interview is great. It’s also a point to reinforce your key message through the thank you (i.e., thanks for the interview about X. If you have any questions about how [key message], let me know…).

  • Tweet the story.When the story is published, a tweet with the link tagging the reporter is a nice thank you.