This post was authored by guest contributor Caryn Radick, Digital Archivist, Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries, and current member of SAA’s Committee on Public Awareness (COPA)
A few months ago, a very fortunate event happened–my institution along with several others received a grant to digitize New Jersey newspapers from microfilm through the National Endowment for the Humanities National Digital Newspaper Program. Excited to get the word out, my library’s superb communications office put out a press release (if you’re not fortunate enough to have a communications office or are interested in more direct outreach to the media, see Erin Lawrimore’s excellent post, “Effective Media Relations for Your Archives”).
As the project director, I knew the story might result in the media wanting to talk to me, but, I still somehow felt caught a little off-guard when I learned that a local radio station, television station, and campus media outlets did indeed want to speak with me. I was more than slightly unnerved by the idea of going “on air,” but also feel it’s important that archivists get out there and talk about what makes their work so special. Although I haven’t done many interviews yet, my comfort-level is increasing.
Below are a few things I’ve picked up as I’ve started interviewing.
- Mock interviews. I was able to work with the communications office on this, but even having someone (preferably not someone familiar with the project) read the press release and ask questions would be useful. This will help you see what information is “at the ready” in your head versus what you might want to check (or have easily accessible), how the questions match what you are ready to say about your project, and any habits you might want to be aware of that will detract, such as fidgeting or using “umms” or “likes” when speaking. Also, think about engaging connecting points; for me, focusing on a big New Jersey story described in the newspapers gave the idea more “concreteness” (I mentioned looking at newspaper accounts of the 1916 Jersey shore shark attacks, a story that gets instant recognition, both for what happened and for why the newspaper accounts would be worth looking up).
- Each interview is an opportunity to learn. I was thrown by variations on the question “why is this important?” The importance of digitizing old newspapers on microfilm is something I don’t think twice about as an archivist, so I’ve now added those points to my answers (cool stuff you can see/heavy research you can do without leaving home! The possibility of stumbling across an amazing story or fact you’d never heard before). Another repeat question is “Anything else I should know?” This is your chance to get out anything you think you may have missed in the previous questions. I also realized that not all audiences are conversant with what it means to scroll through reels of microfilm and started talking about what that’s like.
- Microphones and sound levels. For both television interviews, the camera person/interviewer (in both cases, these were the same person…more about that later) came equipped with a microphone that needed to be attached to my clothing. For the first interview, I needed to clip a wireless microphone to my collar/lapel. For the second, the microphone was on a wire that I needed to place under the bottom of my shirt and pull up before clipping the microphone to the top. Although I did the clipping, both felt slightly awkward to me and I wondered what would have happened if I’d worn a cowl neck for either or a dress for the latter.
Also, be aware of ambient noises. For the radio interview, I had to make up for the air vent above my desk. I scheduled a television interview in a conference room with an adjacent office. Right after we finished, the office holder had an audible conversation. I’ve made a note to schedule another room or check in with the office holder for future interviews.
- Time frame. The local radio and television station wanted to interview me on the day that they got in touch. The immediacy has been something else I’ve needed to get used to and made me consider whether I should keep “interview clothes” at work (so far, no).
- The interviewers. I may be new at this, but the interviewers are not. They know what makes for a good interview and want to help you. Both television interviews were not, as I pictured, on-camera conversations between the interviewer and me. Both stations sent one person who served as camera operator and interviewer. Each helpfully explained what would happen, where I should look as I spoke, and asked questions. My responses ultimately got edited for sound bites.
- If possible, have some visual aids. I’ve started bringing copies of old newspapers and newspapers on microfilm to my interviews to help demonstrate what will happen for this project. All interviewers have either taken pictures or recorded these. Even the radio interview used an image of old newspapers provided by our communications office for their accompanying web story.
- You are not the first archivist to talk to the press! Want proof? See what the Society of American Archivists has to say about interviews, working with the media, and more at http://www2.archivists.org/initiatives/american-archives-month-the-power-of-collaboration.