Editor’s note: This article was written by Betsy Karle, dairy advisor, University of California Cooperative Extension, Glenn and Tehama Counties and originally appeared in the California Dairy Newsletter.
Nothing seems to strike fear like a call from the media. In recent months, they have been none too kind to our industry, but as dairy producers you really do have the opportunity to tell your story. More often than not, a local station or publication is looking for input about an issue that is important to the community. These are great opportunities to put a face to the farmer and build trust among consumers.
There is a plethora of resources within our industry to help you with the media, including Farm Bureau, California Milk Advisory Board, and Dairy Management Inc. There is really no replacement for a good lesson in media training, which I would encourage all dairy producers to pursue. Most farmers would love to leave this task to industry representatives, but the fact is the media wants to hear from you, and not someone who is removed from the farm. The following are my suggestions to help you conduct an interview with confidence.
When first contacted, ask for the reporter’s contact information, what their deadline is, and who else the reporter is interviewing. Also, confirm that you are clear on the focus of the story. Offer to return the call, so you’ll have time to gather the information you need. This is a good time to contact your Farm Advisor or promotion organization to ask for tips. Return the call promptly. Once you are actually doing the interview, be sure to speak in complete sentences so your remarks are less likely to be taken out of context and are clearer to the audience. If you are being challenged by a less than friendly reporter, continue to emphasize your points (I suggest the consumer tested key messages from DMI). You don’t have to answer specific leading questions, but you should respond with a message that you want to communicate. Of course, they may not use it, but you’ve avoided a tricky tactic and have used the opportunity to make a point that you think is important.
Most of the same techniques apply to on-camera interviews, but it is also helpful to ask for a preview of the questions they will ask. This gives you a chance to think about the important points to emphasize when asked those questions. Most times these are not live interviews, so you can always ask for a retake if you are not comfortable with your response. Also, it’s OK to say “I don’t know” if you don’t feel you have enough information to answer a question. You can offer to follow up once you’re able to find the answer, or answer the more general question. For example, I was recently asked how much water a dairy cow uses in one day. Since this can range astronomically from dairy to dairy, I was hesitant to answer the direct question. Instead, I quoted the amount of water a cow drinks in a day and then explained how water is recycled on a dairy from milk cooling to barn washing to lane flushing to crop irrigation. This author was quite surprised and explained to me that she teaches a community college class and was planning to share this information with her students. In this case, the general information was much more valuable than the actual number range that is so variable.
Usually, the media will want pictures and or video to accompany the story. Of course you have every right to decline, but you can also be very specific about what you’d like them to photograph. A picture under your guidance is always better than one taken from the side of the road without permission. Accompany the photographer and show them setups that would make good visuals. Think of a dairy magazine cover—these are the images that are the most useful for the media. Head shots of cows, parlor shots, calves outside of their hutch, kids and family are all great photo opportunities.
After the piece has run, follow up with a note or email to the reporter and cc their editor. Assuming it was a fair piece, thank them for giving you the opportunity and offer to be a resource in the future. Be sure to check the news story online and respond to any comments if you can offer insight.
Source: University of California Cooperative Extension